With five years the generally accepted norm as to whether a company survives or goes out of business, it seems safe to say that Duane Swing, chairman and owner of Velocity Aircraft, has found the magic formula.
Migrating from Ohio to Sebastian, Fla., in 1992, Swing had a dream: to purchase the assets of Velocity from Danny Maher, designer of the Velocity line of aircraft (based on the Burt Rutan Long-EZ), and convert his avocation of building kit planes to a business. The rest is history.
Over the years, the company has gone from one employee to 20. Duane’s son, Scott, is president and his wife, Bonnie, is comptroller.
Operating from sleepy Sebastian airport, Velocity Aircraft advertises three basic kits, the Velocity SE (Standard Elite), the XL (Extra Large), the fleet flagship and best seller, and the XL-5 (five seats instead of four). Any of the three can be built with either fixed or retractable gear.
Because it’s an experimental aircraft, buyers can install any engine, however the company recommends the Lycoming IO 360 (180 and 200 hp), the IO 320 (160 hp), or the Franklin 6A-350-CIR (220 hp) for the SE model. For the larger XL model, the company recommends the Lycoming IO 540D (260 hp) or the Continental IO 550 (310 hp).
Depending on powerplant choice, a builder can expect cruise speeds at 75% power between 172 and 205 kts, with a range between 816 and 1,240 nm.
Build time is estimated at 1,200-1,500 man hours or as low as 800 hours if a builder uses the quick-build options. A 10,000-square-foot service center (under repair after last fall’s hurricanes) is available at Sebastian to accommodate builders with whatever assistance is needed from trained Velocity personnel. The factory also maintains a “Builders Line” you can call and get advice should you get stuck. So far, about 650 Velocity kits have been sold, with approximately 350 aircraft flying.
Base prices for the Velocity SE and XL are $27,500 and $37,500 respectively. Add-ons include fastbuild wings and fuselage, avionics, retractable gear, dual yoke, engine (new or mid-life), propeller (two or three-blade), interior and paint. Depending on option choices and model, the investment could range from $55,000 to $179,000 for the XL-5 RG demonstrator we flew in, lushly outfitted with a Blue Mountain EFIS panel and stereo. Compare that to a new Mooney with similar equipment and performance at $350,000.
Predictably, the Velocity is of all-composite construction for weight, repairability and strength. The SE model has design load factors of +12/-9 “G” and the XL, +9/-7.
As for color, you can have any shade of white you want. As with most composite surfaces, heat buildup from sunlight can cause core materials to shrink. Since white reflects the most heat, that’s what you get.
Interestingly, the Velocity has no flaps. Since deployed flaps create more lift to the wing, flaps on the main wing would have necessitated adding slats to the leading edge of the canard wing to balance lift from both wings. Not only would this complicate the building process, but a feature would have to be designed to ensure one could not be deployed without the other. As I found out later, the lack of flaps was not a problem. All exterior surfaces of the Velocity create lift: the fuselage, wings, canard, winglets, even the wheel pants, making for a very stable aircraft.
As to conversion training, a two-day course is available at Sebastian, consisting of a couple of hours ground school combined with five or so flight hours, concentrating on pattern work, stalls, steep turns, slow flight and emergency procedures. This training is only offered to Velocity owners and builders. This has a definite effect on insurance rates, particularly if the owner has little or no retractable gear time, in which case the insurer may require an instructor fly with the owner for a specified period of time.
FLYING THE XL-5
It was time to see if the performance of the Velocity lived up to the sales literature.
Meeting with Velocity’s sales and demo pilot, Nathan Rigaud, at the Kissimmee, Fla., airport, we proceeded with a walkaround inspection of the factory XL-5 RG demonstrator, N271TC, checking for cracks, tire pressure, connectors, condition of the rear-mounted three-bladed MT composite constant speed propeller — all the usual stuff.
What one notices immediately is the huge gull wing canopy, allowing easy ingress to all seats and the baggage area behind the rear bench seat. Since the fuselage is so low, to enter one simply backs up to sit sideways on the front seat, then pivots on the seat, swinging the legs in. The cushions are comfortable with lots of leg room. Visibility is superb. The extra wide cabin of 47-1/2 inches affords plenty of elbow and shoulder room.
Since the demonstrator only had a single set of controls, mounted on a pedestal between the front seats, I wisely elected to sit right side and have Rigaud do the takeoff and landing. “You have to be alert on engine start,” he explained, “because the propeller is behind you, you need to make sure nobody’s back there.”
Interestingly, many of the switches, including the master, radio master, lights and magnetos, are located on an eyebrow panel above the windshield.
Soon we were warming the engine as we taxied to the runup area. With a fully castoring nose wheel, turns or keeping the aircraft on the centerline were easy.
With no flaps to set, an engine runup and magneto check were performed at 1,700 rpm. Control check, trim set, canopy latched, transponder on and we were good to go.
Velocity touts its takeoff roll for the XL-5 RG as 1,400 feet on an ISA, sea level day. We were just above sea level at Kissimmee and not much warmer than 59°F as Rigaud gave it full throttle with rpms climbing to 2,700. Acceleration was dramatic and in no time we were rotating at 65 kts. With gear up we were climbing at 1,500 fpm with 90 kts on the clock. Leveling at 1,000 feet to stay under Orlando’s Class B airspace, power was reduced to 22 inches of manifold pressure and 2,350 rpm, giving us 170 kts indicated. Once clear, we climbed to 3,000 feet, where we set up 75% power (24 squared) and watched the airspeed settle on 190 kts true. This convinced me the advertised cruise speed of 205 kts would be easily attainable where the Velocity is usually flown, between 7,000 and 12,000 feet (service ceiling is billed as 20,000 feet plus). Admittedly, we had the biggest engine installed, the Continental IO 550 (310 hp), giving us a fuel burn of 15 gal/hr. A TSIO 550 is supposedly in the works, which will enhance performance even further.
The fixed gear version of the XL-5 realizes a cruise speed penalty of 12-15 kts, but on the bright side, insurance premiums are not as high for those with limited time in retractables.
Control response is excellent and roll rate lively. Time for a stall. Rigaud ran the gear out at 120 kts and pulled the power off. “What happens here,” he said, “is that the canard will stall first. This drops the nose and you have flying speed again.”
We did a couple of these oscillations, stalling at about 65 kts with no wing drop and without adding power. Aileron response was positive throughout.
“Let me show you something else,” he offered, as he cleaned up the gear and resumed cruising speed. “I’ve trimmed the aircraft for level flight and I’m taking my hands off the controls. Now I’m going to input a little left rudder.” The aircraft rolled into a 30° bank turn to the left and stayed there, even after he took his feet off the rudders. “Now I’ll return to level flight with a touch of right rudder.” And so we did. The point: you hardly need an autopilot in this airplane, it’s so stable.
Time to head for the barn. With a Vne of 200 KIAS, close to the cruising speed, one needs to start downhill with an eye to the airspeed indicator, as sleek as this bird is.
Soon we were entering the traffic pattern at Kissimmee, tooling along at 100 kts for the turn to base leg. As I returned control to Rigaud, he dropped the gear with negligible trim change and turned final, carrying about 90 kts. Leveling the Velocity, he flew it onto the runway at 80 kts, anticipating a last minute wave-off because of slow-clearing traffic ahead of us.
As we taxied to the ramp, the secret of Duane Swing’s success with the Velocity line of aircraft became clear to me. Speed, performance, quality, service, reliability and good looks — all at an affordable price.