“Everything you need and not much else,” is the catchy tagline from aviation entrepreneur Chip Erwin.
With those words, he described the Italian Zigolo, which is based on a design by American Mike Sandlin. (In a sign of our global times, Erwin imports it to both USA and China.) One look at the aircraft and you can see what he is describing. Zigolo has everything you need to go aloft to have some aerial fun and, well … not much else.
A similarly simple but well packaged design is made here in the US of A but has recently made its way overseas to Germany and the European Union. Florida’s Aerolite 103 (Aerolite 120 in Europe to conform to its “120 Class”) also has all a pilot needs to see the countryside.
Both aircraft are single seaters and they share one characteristic that ought to intrigue for you two reasons. Their singular quality is their surprisingly low cost. You could own your aircraft for pennies on the usual aircraft-buying dollar. Newcomers to aviation may also enjoy this fact.
Every pilot to whom I’ve spoken in recent years wants more people to share our pleasure of flight. Aerolite and Zigolo can appeal to younger pilots on tighter budgets and each costs less than the average price of a new car.
Zigolo Is Made to Soar
General aviation pilots are apt to look at either airplane and think, “Why, these are just ultralights.” If you said that, you are right, but these ultralights aren’t like those from the early 1980s when the FAA created that category. In those formative days, ultralights were very basic aircraft with little history. They’ve come a long way since.
Zigolo is incredibly light, only 225 pounds empty even with its standard airframe parachute system. This means at least three things. It can easily make Part 103, which limits empty weight to 254 pounds. Zigolo has enough weight margin to allow ideas like electric power (more below).
For GA pilots, it means some familiarization to comprehend with the different response to the air that a lightplane exhibits compared to a heavier GA aircraft. A lighter airplane takes less material, a component of holding down the price.
Zigolo is powered by a 25-hp Vittorazi Moster 185 engine. The lightweight engine and airframe helps it take off in a mere 120 feet, climb 400 fpm (about like most Cessna 150s), and burn only 1.5 gallons an hour.
Beyond its gasoline engine, Erwin is flying Zigolo powered by an electric motor. That’s significant in a couple ways.
Readers are surely aware of the push by many visionaries to fly electric powered airplanes. Many experts fully expect this trend to gain increasing strength as time passes. Given intense development to raise battery technology, a great stride forward in energy density will come, most agree. It is presently impossible to pack the potency of gasoline into a battery.
When batteries offer more staying power, larger aircraft will explore electric power. Even today, Airbus is talking about an electric 90-seat airliner. Yet today, batteries are too heavy for larger airplanes to have a reasonable endurance. That’s why a super lightweight like Zigolo can comply with Part 103’s tough empty weight rule even while carrying batteries that allow 30 minutes of flight or more.
If 30 minutes doesn’t sound like much, consider that in 10 minutes or so, Zigolo can climb to 4,000 feet where you can shut down and work thermal or ridge lift. When you’re done soaring around, you still have 20 minutes of battery power to get you back to your home field. Zigolo’s light weight and 36 foot span will permit easy soaring on all but marginal days.
Beside good flight qualities, the best news about Zigolo is its remarkable price of $16,000 for what Erwin calls an “almost ready-to-fly aircraft.”
On balance, Zigolo is not a cross country machine, flying only 45 mph and, as mentioned, GA pilots used to heavier airplanes must acclimate, yet at $16,000, you can experience a lot of fun per dollar of investment.
Aerolite Around the World
Since its creation in the mid-1990s Aerolite has been a solely American phenomenon. That last word seems appropriate given Aerolite retails for less than $16,000 completely assembled and ready to fly. It is no bare bones airplane.
Those who examined ultralights back when they were new thought these were overly simplistic airplanes. They had to be basic to stay within the very tight constraints of a 254-pound empty weight. Some didn’t even have steerable nose wheels or suspension and most lacked brakes, engine and flight instruments, flaps, in-flight trim, and cockpit fairings. Certainly they didn’t have such “luxuries” as electric starting or ballistically-deployed airframe parachutes.
Aerolite has all these items (though electric will add $600 to the least costly model, pricing it modestly above $16,000; also, the parachute is an option).
Acquired a couple years ago by a Florida company named U-Fly-It, the Deland airport operation has been happily assembling plane after plane for customers who generally have very kind words for award-winning builder, Dennis Carley.
Like Zigolo, Carley keeps a lid on cost partly by installing a two-stroke engine, but he’s been developing a four-stroke powerplant. This will raise the cost, though not a great deal, he reported. If such a plane can reach the market for the low $20,000s, this will be an excellent accomplishment.
Although several hundred have been built by all suppliers of the design (it has changed hands a couple times in 20 years) you know that the design is well conceived at least three ways. Hundreds have been successfully flown by their owners. Flight reviewers have given the airplane good marks for its construction and flight qualities. In 2014, the international version of the design — with only minor modifications — passed all tests to be qualified for sale in the European Union.
Europe does not have a Part 103 but its 120-kilogram Class is surprisingly government hands-off compared to nearly any other category. The same can be said for England’s Single Seat Deregulated (SSDR) class, where Zigolo could also qualify. Both regions demand more proof of structures and handling than does the FAA under Part 103.
Aerolite USA’s dealer in Germany, Vierwerk, recently announced it had completed all evaluations and paperwork has been submitted at this writing. Based on comments by multiple test pilots, Aerolight is expected to gain approval in four to six weeks. Prices are a bit higher in Europe due to the cost of approval and overseas shipping, but it is still very modestly priced, well below any other three axis airplane delivered ready-to-fly.
While not every ex-Bonanza or Cirrus pilot will be satisfied with something as simple and slow as Aerolite or Zigolo, these airplanes are worthy of a closer look. If you own a costlier Piper or Diamond, you probably have a budget to acquire a deluxe Light-Sport Aircraft when you can no longer qualify for a medical or when you just want something truly economical to operate (most LSA burn around four gallons an hour and can use auto gas).
Aerolite can offer hours of enjoyment for even less fuel use and the remarkably low purchase price allows some to keep their speedy GA airplane for trips and use the Aerolite for local, fun flying. It can bring back the $10 or $20 hamburger flight.
However, what may be the strongest argument for airplanes that almost anyone can afford is the chance to bring new pilots into the flock. Many new pilots could be amply satisfied flying around in an Aerolite or Zigolo. Others will get the bug and move up to higher performing machines and that might give you someone to whom you can sell your well equipped two, four, or six seater. Certainly aviation needs growth; no one can dispute that fact. Aerolite and Zigolo make this much more likely and that alone is reason to celebrate their availability.
Among the best news for American buyers of Zigolo or Aerolite is the way FAA gets out of the way of your flying enjoyment. Get this: No pilot license is needed, no N-numbers are needed, no medical is needed, and the aircraft can be delivered ready-to-fly (or almost ready-to-fly). The entire Part 103 regulation can be printed on the front and back of a single piece of office paper. Compare that to your thick FAR manual.