Phil Lockwood could be described as one of the hardest working men in aviation.
He’s the head of the Lockwood Group, the parent company of Lockwood Aviation Supply, Lockwood Aviation Repair, Aero Technical Institute and Lockwood Aircraft, the makers of the AirCam and Drifter aircraft. In many circles, the name Lockwood is inexorably tied to Rotax engines and the Light Sport Aircraft movement.
General Aviation News caught up with Lockwood during last summer’s AirVenture. He was working the AirCam booth one morning, and you could tell that he was enjoying himself immensely. Enjoyment is key when it comes to making your living, he explained, noting that when he was a boy, he was sure he didn’t want to “work” for a living.
“I recognized that most of the adults I knew really didn’t enjoy what they did for a living,” he said. “They called it work and it was work, and they seemed to long for weekends and vacations, so I wanted to find something that I really enjoyed.”
Lockwood’s first interest was the water. He toyed with the idea of becoming a marine architect and building boats, but was worried about coming to hate something he loved so much.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of hating boats, so I thought, rather than becoming a marine architect, I should go into something that I don’t know much about because that way, if I start not liking it, no loss,” he explained.
Lockwood had an interest in aviation, so he pursued a degree in Aviation Business and Flight Technology at the Florida Institute of Technology.
“After graduating I got a job with a small company called Maxair and my career sort of went from there,” he said. “In 1989 I started my own company, Lockwood Aviation, in my garage. We started selling parts and accessories for Rotax engines and shipping them overseas. And pretty soon we got the Rotax dealership for that area.”
Today Lockwood Aviation is known as the number one Rotax shop in the country. That makes it — and Lockwood — very important to the experimental aircraft and LSA community.
“About 80% of the Special-Light Sport Aircraft are using Rotax engines at present,” said Lockwood. “We also have technical schools that do training for Rotax mechanics, and the training for certain airframes, like the Remos and the (Flight Design) CT.”
Lockwood acknowledges that many flight schools have been reluctant to add an LSA to their fleets because of their unfamiliarity with Rotax engines.
“I think that apprehension comes from a lack of knowledge,” Lockwood said. “It is a different engine than what they are used to, and they are afraid of it because they don’t know it or understand it. That’s why we have the schools that we have. They are available all over the country at different Rotax centers. A mechanic who takes the training can work on a Rotax, no problem. “There’s no magic to it,” he continued. “A good mechanic can learn 90% of what they need to know in four days of training.”
THE AIRCAM AND DRIFTER
In the early 1990s, a sense of adventure led Lockwood to Namibia, where he was tasked with teaching award-winning videographer and wildlife researchers Jen and Des Bartlett how to fly a Maxair Drifter that was to be used for a special research project.
“The Bartletts wanted an ultralight-type aircraft that they could operate and maintain themselves and they ended up buying a couple of Drifters from us,” Lockwood recalled. “It was agreed that I would go over to Africa and teach Jen how to fly it.”
That led to Lockwood working with more wildlife film makers.
“I really enjoyed it, but I started to realize that there was some risk involved,” he said. “They always wanted to fly over really cool stuff, but it was also over terrain that was unlandable. I had been pretty careful up to that point, always flying at a safe altitude, keeping in mind a place to land. I knew that when I dropped down to 50 feet above the terrain we would be at risk. I started longing for a twin that could do that safely.”
It was that desire, coupled with a commission from National Geographic for an aircraft that could do a research and photography flight over the Congo, that led to the design of the AirCam.
“Over the desert there was always a place to land so it was suitable for a single-engine airplane,” he said. “We would do a flight plan with the base saying, ‘this is where I am going and this is when I am going to be back’ and if you didn’t come back they would come looking for you.
“I asked the guys in the Congo, ‘if we go down, what are the chances of rescue,’ and they said it’s not good because there really aren’t any places to land,” he said. “The jungle is all 200-foot-tall mahogany trees. I told them I wasn’t interested in doing it in a Drifter, but I had an idea for an airplane that could do it, and they talked me into building it for them. That is AirCam Number One and it is now hanging in the EAA museum.”
The AirCam is popular with photographers and videographers because of its ability to fly low and slow, while sturdy enough to have multiple cameras mounted on it. It has been described by some as a flying canoe because of its long, tandem body. It is a kit airplane, and can go together in 800 to 1,500 hours.
Once you have owned an AirCam, nothing else will do, according to Lockwood.
“AirCam owners are kind of like Harley owners,” he said. “It is like a cult and they really tend to love their airplanes. They keep them a long time and if they do sell them they go into remorse and end up having to buy another one.”
Meanwhile, Lockwood has spent the last several months updating the Drifter series of aircraft after he bought the rights to the design.
“The new horizontal stabilizers and elevators add approximately 2 feet to the span of the tail,” he said. “They are designed to increase pitch stability and elevator authority on float-equipped Super Drifters.” (Super Drifters are those powered by the Rotax 912 engine, other models use two-stroke Rotax engines.) “Our goal is to overcome the additional nose-down pitch force created by adding floats.”
The new horizontal stabilizers offer more pitch authority when rotating off the water, especially with heavier pilots up front. This allows the Super Drifter to lift off the water at the lowest possible speed, reducing takeoff distance. They also may allow for an increase an in the CG envelope. “They really work well,” exclaimed Lockwood.
The new horizontal stabilizers will be available as a retrofit kit for existing float-equipped Super Drifters and standard on new kits going on floats. Company officials estimate the new parts should be available by March, provided testing goes as expected.
Lockwood’s enterprises are based at Sebring Regional Airport (SEF) in Florida, home to this month’s U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, considered the premiere LSA show in the country. The location is fitting, as Lockwood is also known for his role in the development of the LSA industry through his position on the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) board. LAMA helped create the standards for LSA.
“It’s important that all the manufacturers meet those standards,” said Lockwood, adding, “that’s what we should all be focusing on for the next five years.”
For more information: Lockwood-Aviation.com.