“It simply won’t work,” say too many pilots. “You cannot run a business making only 50 airplanes a year. To build good, safe airplanes, you must operate a large enterprise.”
If you are one of those naysayers, are you sure about that?
I write about the world of light aviation, a segment of recreational aircraft spanning hang gliders to Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA). In that space, we have only a few companies that make 100 aircraft a year; most are far smaller.
Are these micromanufacturers too small to build reliable aircraft or to provide a reasonable living for their employees and owners?
Based on many years of writing about these companies, I can attest they are not too small. One proof of their right size is that many of these small companies boast very low employee turnover. Another is their steady innovation.
Small companies turn out to be more nimble and durable than larger companies that must have significant revenues solely to cover overhead and payroll. If the economy turns down, as it did in the global financial meltdown of 2007-2009, those bigger enterprises become vulnerable. Most survived, but to do so many had to cut activities, reduce models, and trim payrolls.
While all that misery was happening, BRM Aero of the Czech Republic was just forming. By mid-2017, after only six years of making deliveries, the creator of Bristell Light-Sport Aircraft rolled out its 300th aircraft.
Simple arithmetic tells you the company averaged 50 fully-built aircraft a year for those six years, but intuition tells you it started smaller, so recent years have been even stronger.
In those 72 months, BRM Aero, lead by a father and son team, has enlarged its staff, increased its worldwide dealer network, added new aircraft models — a retractable model and a taildragger — and acquired and moved into new manufacturing, engineering, and office quarters.
I’d call that a success story.
Company leader and chief designer Milan Bristela is a veteran of the fledgling LSA sector. Smartly parlaying his experience, he steadily built a successful aircraft manufacturing enterprise that delivers a handsome low-wing, all-metal, modern light aircraft.
Since its first delivery to a customer in 2011 and to its 300th aircraft this year, BRM Aero has demonstrated it is an appropriate business size for a LSA manufacturer. Forging ahead, BRM advances toward two aircraft every week. Mooney or Maule would love to deliver at that pace.
BRM Aero started in 2009 with two employees. Over the course of several years the team has grown to 50 employees. When growth demanded, they moved into larger quarters, but they’ve also maintained a family feel with father Milan and son Martin running the enterprise as partners.
The full name of its stylish aircraft is Bristell NG 5 LSA. The “5” is a hint of this being the fifth generation since the first aircraft I know Milan to have worked on — SportCruiser, which General Aviation News readers might better recognize as PiperSport. For that legacy company’s rather brief entry into the world of LSA, this was the aircraft they chose…more correctly, an earlier, not-as-refined version of the Bristell.
Back in 2003, when I was involved with BRS Parachutes, I traveled to the Czech Republic. My contact was American Chip Erwin, then-leader of Czech Aircraft Works, which originated and popularized the SportCruiser/PiperSport.
As the new millennia began, Milan was employed by Czech Aircraft Works and he graciously took a day off to travel around the country with me as we visited parachute developers. I had no idea then that just six years later Milan would become head of his own company making one of the LSA sector’s most attractive designs. However, I easily perceived his skills, experience, and drive, so I am hardly surprised by his company’s achievements.
BRM Aero began selling the first version of Bristell in 2011 as a fixed-gear aircraft. In 2012 Milan developed a Bristell RG retractable gear aircraft and in the following year came Bristell TDO, the taildragger option model that delivers a very sporty look.
BRM Aero left rented quarters for its own production facilities only five years after starting the business, and since moving, increased production capacity by more than double over the next two years.
Today’s Bristell Ultralight (the European regulatory description) and BRM Aero’s LSA variation are offered in three configurations that clearly please many pilots. The tricycle gear, fixed undercarriage configuration is the right choice of airplane for use in flight training, glider towing, and for recreational flying.
Thanks to spirited performance, cabin comfort involving thoughtful ergonomic design with the widest cockpit in its category, and modern instrumentation, any of the Bristell models is an excellent choice for cross-country flights.
A Bristell HD version offers heavy-duty wing spars, which make cross-country flights safer in stronger weather conditions.
In the USA, BRM Aero enjoys a highly experienced and dedicated team at Bristell USA, lead by longtime industry expert Lou Mancuso, along with his team of professionals. BRM Aero also has representation in several other countries.
Bristell USA has done well for BRM Aero in several ways, including identifying a clear path to use a Bristell for instrument flying, an activity some incorrectly think is not permitted in the USA. In fact, the regulations do not prevent such use and Bristell USA can explain the details to buyers that might be interested.
Bristell’s powerplant is the ubiquitous 100-hp Rotax 912. Additionally, BRM Aero was one of the very first to implement the still-coming-to-market 135-hp Rotax 915iS engine. This was no surprise to the Austrian engine builder as BRM Aero was also one of the first to adopt the fuel-injected 912iS.
At a rather trim empty weight of 729 pounds, Bristell can manage a payload with full fuel (32 gallons) of 400 pounds, enough for two big fellows. Bristell can cruise 700 nautical miles based on more than six hours endurance burning 5 gallons an hour of premium auto gas. Avgas can also be used and the Rotax engine permits blending the two types in any ratio. Save with auto gas when you can. Buy 100LL when more convenient.
Bristell’s cabin width is a whopping 51.2 inches, more than foot wider than a Cessna 172 and arguably the best-in-class among already roomy LSA.
If fuel load need not be full and when carrying two average sized folks, Bristell has space for 121 pounds of luggage in two wing lockers and space aft of the seat. Of course, the latter depends on a weight and balance check, but is nonetheless appealing to those who want to travel in the Bristell.
The U.S. importer says Bristell will get you from Philadelphia (not far from their current location) to Chicago with a single fuel stop.
Stall is a low 32 knots or 39 clean and what’s called “max structural cruise” is stated at 116 knots or 133 mph. Never exceed speed is 155 knots.
The Czech company offers a faster retractable model though that will not qualify under American LSA regulations. European regulations allow Ultralight-class airplanes to be retractable and use in-flight adjustable props.
In flight, Bristell proved to be a thing of beauty with wonderful handling and an unimpeachable stability profile. Three other flight reviewers that same day proved equally enthusiastic. Team BRM Aero was justifiably proud.
I recommend you take a flight at one of the smaller, mostly-LSA and light kit airshows near you to experience Bristell’s qualities yourself. This is Light-Sport Aircraft at the peak of capability and fun.
- Bristell Classic model (fixed tricycle gear, fixed pitch prop)
- Empty weight: 705 pounds*
- Maximum takeoff weight: 1,320 pounds
- Useful load: 615 pounds *
- Payload at full fuel: 425 pounds *
- Cabin width (interior): 50.4 inches
- Baggage capacity (interior): 33 pounds **
- Baggage capacity (wing compartments): 2 X 44 pounds **
- Engine: Rotax 912 iS (100 hp)
- Propeller: 68-inch, three-blade fixed pitch
- Wing span: 29 feet 11 inches
- Wing area: 126.5 square feet
- Takeoff distance at gross, over 50 foot obstacle: 1,475 feet
- Stall at gross, best flaps: 31 knots
- Stall at gross, clean: 43 knots
- Maximum horizontal speed: 120 knots
- Never exceed speed: 155 knots
- Fuel capacity: 31.7 gallons
- Fuel consumption: 3.7–5.0 gph
- Range (without reserve): 700+ nautical miles
* Optional equipment may adjust this figure.
** Baggage capacity depends on weight and balance calculations.