A chance conversation at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 brought the handsome aircraft below into clearer focus. I already knew about Mosquito and received a briefing to fly one captured in this 2013 video. I did not grasp how the producer evolved after original developer John Uptigrove‘s unfortunate demise in 2018.
What appeared in Composite-FX‘s display in the Fun Fly Zone at Oshkosh were beautifully done flying machines that looked heavier and much more complex than John’s original Mosquito. They are neither, fortunately.
Owner Dwight Junkin and friend George Boynton replaced John’s open-cockpit Mosquito with a composite fuselage, using long experience with such constructions. Dwight’s Florida company ultimately took over John’s work, moving the contents of the Canadian’s workshop to his base in Trenton, Florida.
Composite-FX’s XEL is a factory-built helicopter, bargain priced at $52,000.
XEL qualifies as a Part 103 ultralight aircraft by complying with limitations as clarified in AC-103-7, “The Ultralight Vehicle.”
Powered by the MZ202 engine and equipped with floats, XEL weighs in at 312 pounds, two pounds shy of the 314 pounds allowed by regulations.
After John died, his company, Innovator Technologies, shut down and Composite-FX assumed the brand. Their work with John earlier and continuing on their own today has led to more than 400 kit deliveries and about 150 XEL Part 103 ultralight helicopters flying in the USA.
Can You Fly a Helicopter?
While at Oshkosh, I asked Composite-FX Operations Director Norbert Richter how they handle flight instruction because Composite-FX only makes single place machines. While a two-place has been contemplated, that project has been shelved while other work demands their time. Besides making four varieties of the original Mosquito, a non-piloted model has also found a market.
Until a two-place model emerges, company officials recommend the popular Robinson R22 as a basic trainer, although they note the R22 “is regarded universally as a ‘squirrely’ helicopter due to its tricky handling characteristics. While the Mosquito is smaller than an R22, it has more docile handling characteristics.”
Better training choices are a Hughes 269, Schweizer 300, or Enstrom, however, these are less available than the Robinson line.
The company also has a virtual reality training system that can help familiarize new pilots.
Richter noted most pilots will become rather capable in just 10 to 20 hours.
Pilot training is not legally required to fly a compliant Part 103 ultralight, but to encourage proper training, Composite-FX builds an incentive into the price. A customer with a minimum of 10 logged hours of dual instruction receives a $2,000 discount. That won’t pay for the whole 10 hours, Richter said, but it will cover a good portion of the cost and encourages buyers to obtain at least minimal training.
Based on the low number of accident/incident reports, they appear to enjoy a decent safety record. That may be the best proof of a “docile to fly” designation.
- Powerplant: MZ202, Carbureted, Air Cooled
- Empty Weight: 312 pounds*
- Gross Weight (240 pound pilot): 610 pounds
- Maximum Airspeed: 70 mph
- Cruise Speed: 62.5 mph
- Main Rotor Speed: 540 revolutions per minute
- Tail Rotor Speed: 2,500 revolutions per minute
- Climb Rate (estimated): 900 feet per minute
- Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
- Fuel Consumption (estimate): 5 gallons per hour
- Flight Duration: 1 hour
*Calculation of empty weight is based on the FAA’s allowance of 60 pounds for floats. Adding that to the 254 pound maximum empty weight for a Part 103 ultralight vehicle yields an allowed total empty weight of 314 pounds. Landing on floats has been demonstrated, Richter stated, but it is only advised for expert pilots on calm water as water makes an unstable surface.
Composite-FX‘s full XE-series model line includes the Part 103 ultralight XEL or three Experimental Amateur Built models: XE, XE 290, and the turbine-powered XET. The XE is essentially the XEL with 12 gallons of fuel, while the XE 290 uses a more powerful engine and has a higher-than-103-compliant weight.
The flagship of the XE models, the XET is powered by a modified T62-T2A Solar Turbine engine. An XET kit runs $50,000 before engine, but a T62-T2A engine might be bought for as little as $12,500. For $15,000 more the factory will help you finish it. That makes $62,500 to $77,500 for a turbine-powered helicopter.
Customers may build experimental category XE models on their own or through a factory-assist program, and the average build time is 400 to 500 hours. The Part 103 XEL is available in kit form or factory built.