When 12,000 airplanes converge on one airport, you know some of them will be so special, so engaging, and so compelling that they will motivate pilots to investigate more deeply or perhaps pull the trigger on a purchase.
One essential purpose of the Experimental Aircraft Association‘s annual convention is to help pilots become aware of aircraft they may want to examine and perhaps experience for themselves. Since most of us cannot afford multiple airplane purchases, some guidance about the best-in-category might be helpful.
Be advised, though, the following does not try to be definitive or exhaustive. Many other great choices might be available, but these are the ones that caught my eye.
As I focus singularly on the light — and hopefully affordable — end of aviation, these choices may be stimulating to you. Even if not, perhaps you’ll find the review entertaining.
Rotax’s 915iS and LSA’s Future
A big announcement at Oshkosh may only be relevant for a couple more years, yet is nonetheless a very important development. This came out in a press conference update for the 141-horsepower, fuel-injected, turbocharged, intercooled powerplant from the major Austrian producer.
Rotax will begin offering the new engine fully tested for a fixed pitch propeller. A year and a half ago a company leader hinted at this saying, “All our earlier engines can be used with fixed pitch props. Take from that statement what you will.” Sure enough, a fixed pitch 915iS is coming in the fall of 2019.
Larger airplanes are coming to the LSA sector, so Rotax is ready with its more powerful 915iS engine. Resulting gross weight — figured via FAA’s new “Power Index” — will go up. Speeds may rise a bit. Generally the size of LSA will be growing and the new Rotax engine is sure to find plenty of market interest.
As the new regulation comes, it is also likely to allow what is called Single Lever Control. Such a system has been used for years in Cirrus aircraft. It means the pilot has no separate prop control. Prop adjustments occur automatically through technology mixing aircraft speed, power request via throttle position, altitude, and other data points to optimize the pitch setting for that flight configuration.
Gyro News Delights
Gyroplane enthusiasts got some good news at Oshkosh. Just before the event, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) sent a report revealing that the FAA was very likely to grant gyroplanes the Special Light-Sport Aircraft status they have sought for more than a decade and a half. This will allow companies to sell fully-built aircraft.
Leading builder AutoGyro of Germany chose to pursue FAA Primary Category (used only in the U.S.) to supply fly-away gyroplanes. All the company’s competitors can only sell kit-built gyroplanes, although the industry has adapted to this constraint with builder-assist centers.
The original idea of the LSA rule was that a flock of very different aircraft were to be approved using industry consensus standards that were accepted by FAA. The rule always meant to include gyroplanes, but resistance prevented that from happening both at the rule’s announcement and even 15 years later.
With the new regulation, fully-built gyroplanes should come to the market. This will encourage more sales of an already very active category but will also keep buyers from needing to build their gyro from a kit.
Companies like Italy’s Magni Gyro, the #2 producer worldwide, are encouraged by this development.
Special Light-Sport Aircraft Hit 150 Models
From opposite sides of the planet come the two newest Special LSA with more to follow. For a new category, Light-Sport Aircraft in the USA has proliferated broadly and quickly. Recently the 149th and 150th LSA models earned FAA acceptance.
From China comes that country’s first-ever Light-Sport Aircraft to win approval from the FAA. Under approval from Chinese aviation authorities, Aurora has about 100 examples flying in China, Sunward officials reported at Oshkosh.
In the nascent China general aviation market, such a fleet makes Sunward a market leader.
The U.S. approval was earned in Denton, Texas, where the Special Airworthiness Certificate was issued.
In a complete remake of its earlier JetFox 97, Italy’s InnovAviation raised the bar with designer Alfredo di Cesare’s brilliant FX1.
The smooth creation makes extensive use of carbon fiber and has achieved a very elegant cowling of the tractor-mounted Rotax 912iS.
After Oshkosh, Alfredo and team raced directly to Mt. Vernon Airport (KMVN), home of September’s Midwest LSA Expo. He and his engineers reassembled the showplane FX1 and managed to gain FAA approval in a remarkably short time.
Texas Aircraft Colt
Another world entry is an airplane designed in Brazil, but developed and manufactured in Hondo, Texas. Texas Aircraft made its U.S. debut at Oshkosh 2019 with the Colt.
The clean design with a steel frame and all-aluminum exterior, plus a deluxe interior with yoke controls, generated many admiring looks at EAA’s big summer celebration of flight. Colt is presently going through the standards approval process.
Four Seat LSA and Much More
The LSA story is blooming in many directions. Not only are new engines, props, aircraft types, and propulsion sources coming, but LSA in the future may have four seats, much higher useful loads, and perhaps even the chance to do compensated work beyond flight instruction. Buckle up!
“Rule Change Ready” Sign Draws ‘Em In
One company ready to exploit the coming LSA rule change is Australia’s Jabiru, via its U.S. representative, US Sport Planes. Jabiru has offered a four seat model for years. For LSA sales, the American importer omits the rear seats.
Therefore, plans for Jabiru to offer a four seater in a new LSA category should go quickly for this established model and producer, although it is premature to know exactly how the rule will define new categories.
With these developments in mind, the Texas company distributing Jabiru made signage for its AirVenture booth that read: “Rule Change Ready.” They weren’t ready for the reaction.
Proprietor Scott Severen noted, “People kept coming into our exhibit asking, ‘What rule change?’”
He thought another sign about the company’s five-year warranty would be the bigger attraction, but he sagely left up the rule change sign after it provided a steady draw of passers-by into their space.
Part 103 Ultralights Going Strong
One aircraft category remains a charmer without even being “aircraft.” Officially, Part 103-qualifying aircraft are “vehicles,” which keeps these flying machines from needing to meet all the general definitions for “aircraft.”
Many say this is aviation’s most user-friendly category as no pilot certificate is required to fly one, no medical of any kind is needed, no N-numbers or registration are required, and a manufacturer can sell a ready-to-fly aircraft, ‘er, vehicle.
Some onlookers mistakenly say no fixed wing aircraft can truly meet the demands of Part 103.
Keeping empty weight below 254 pounds when using an engine that can provide enough power to interest buyers is indeed a challenging task, yet newcomer Badland Aircraft and two established 103 vehicle suppliers — U-Fly-It and Kolb Aircraft — have met the task, even with basic extras.
With attractive prices, all are reporting strong interest and two are building to capacity.
A brand new entry was seen at Oshkosh 2019. The truth is, this is the already-known Kitfox Lite, but as FoxAir sold the Lite model, it was picked up by Badland Aircraft after prior owner Belite Aircraft pursued different directions.
The well-built aircraft from the Las Vegas manufacturer attracted loads of attention at the event. Badland will supply a range of models under the name F-series.
“Yes, it fully makes Part 103’s tight weight, speed, and other parameters,” said owner Chris Deuel.
From U-Fly-It in DeLand, Florida, comes Aerolite 103.
This wonderfully-priced flying machine is so backlogged the company added a kit version and has shrugged off a number inquiries about a two-seater.
Aerolite 103 can be purchased for less than $17,000 ready-to-fly. Most go for just over $20,000 with equipment like an airframe parachute or a few other accessories.
One the light aircraft segment’s longest-lasting and most popular brands echoes U-Fly-It’s strategy of shrugging off inquiries into a two-seater. According to Kolb’s Brian Melborn, interest in his Kentucky company’s Part 103-fitting Firefly and the single-place Firestar are in such demand that he deemphasizes the company’s two-seat Mark III model.
Some may think Part 103 vehicles lack sufficient capability to be of interest, but sales appear to prove them wrong. Part 103 vehicles are enjoying a strong period now several years old. Prices in the mid-$20,000 range or less obviously taps a market for those on tighter budgets but with the same interest in flying.
EAA boasted that AirVenture Oshkosh 2019 drew 642,000 attendees. One reason for this impressive figure: The most affordable end of aviation appears to be thriving.