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The Wonderful World of Ultralights at AirVenture

By Dan Grunloh, Editor, Light Plane World

Wonderful world of ultralights at AirVenture Oshkosh

A little over 25 years ago, EAA hosted an ultralight-only fly-in at Oshkosh with the theme of “The Wonderful World of Ultralights.” This year at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the ultralight/light plane area was reminiscent of those early days but with the addition of light-sport aircraft, powered parachutes, helicopters, hot-air balloons, and weight shift trikes that can go 100 mph (the trikes, not the balloons). There were more aircraft and vendors on display than in previous years, and it was wonderful to see the ultralight runway busy again. New single-seat FAR 103 ultralights were displayed and flown including a growing number powered by four-stroke engines.

The return of interest in single-seat fixed-wing ultralights continues to increase as the ultralight pilot population adjusts to the new reality that doesn’t include exempted two-seat trainers flown mostly for sport and recreation. At least, that’s the hope of the small companies and individuals developing and promoting FAR 103 ultralights. There was a lot to see in the ultralight/light plane area at AirVenture 2010. Here are the first six aircraft you should know about.

Aerolite 103
The strut-braced high-wing pusher monoplane configuration with tricycle landing gear represents one of the classic solutions to the ultralight design question. Terry Raber knew that back in 1993when he designed the Aerolite 103. First flown in 1996, it won Grand Champion Ultralight at AirVenture in ’97 and ’98. Kit production ceased in 2005 when the manufacturing firm licensed to build the Aerolite floundered. No one knows for certain how many Aerolites were originally built. The reported range is from 130 to 300. Terry has taken back the rights to the design and announced he’ll produce a new ready-to-fly version of his popular award-winning design.

Aerolite 103
Terry Raber and the new Aerolite 103

The new Aerolite 103 has upgraded hardware and a spun aluminum fuel tank among other changes. A lightweight 28-hp Hirth F-33 engine allows additional features such as a three-blade composite prop, electric flaps, electric start, brakes, wheel pants, streamline strut and gear fairings, and a basic instrument package. It has all this and still makes FAR 103 weight at a ready-to-fly price of $13,995. The Aerolite is available with other engines including the Rotax 447 or as a kit with the engine mount of your choice. The Rotax 447 configuration exceeds the FAR 103 weight limit. Terry says he has changed “his colors” to orange and blue and that he prefers to specialize in ready-to-fly completed aircraft. He simply enjoys building aircraft. His “kits” are actually completed aircraft that are broken down into components for easier shipping. Learn more about the new Aerolite 103 at his website www.Fly103.com. While there you’ll learn that Terry is also the source for the seamless plastic strut fairings which have become the standard throughout the industry.

Phoenix 103
Next up, the Phoenix 103 is an example of parallel evolution in aircraft design. It has happened with Quicksilver, Phantom, Challenger, and others. Mark Klotz was president of Aeroworks, the manufacturer of the Aerolite 103 until the year 2000 when there was a change of ownership. A few years later when production ceased, he began to be contacted by Aerolite 103 owners looking for replacement parts. He liked Terry’s design but thought, why not make some changes and improvements? Little by little he began producing his own evolved version of the Aerolite he called the Phoenix 103. The name, aptly chosen, comes from a Greek legend about a bird that rises to fly again and inspired a 1965 movie The Flight of the Phoenix.

Phoenix 103
Mark Klotz and his Phoenix 103

Mark has sold about 10 kits for the Phoenix 103 in the last two years. He displayed two Phoenix 103s at AirVenture 2010. One was powered by a 45-hp MZ-201 engine, and the other airframe featured a 50-hp Hirth F-23 engine. The Phoenix 103 can make the ultralight weight limit with either engine. The MZ-201 requires a battery for the dual ignition to function, so it was equipped with electric start. The Hirth F-23 has a recoil start but provides dual ignition without the need for a battery.

The kit is available with a variety of other engines including the Rotax 447. The complete kit with a build time of 80 to 100 hours is $15,299 with the 50-hp Hirth (the most expensive engine option). It has flaps (0 to 30 degrees), a four-point restraint system, a yoke control, and choice of 1.7-ounce fabric or Dacron sailcloth covers. Contact Wings of Freedom LLC in Hubbard, Ohio, at 330-534-5548, or e-mail contact@wingsoffreedomaviation.com. Phoenix 103 website is here and includes informationabout the Phoenix, the Aerolite (which he has long supported), and his other airplanes including the Flitplane. For even more information about the Aerolite and Phoenix ultralights, join the Yahoo discussion group Aerolite-103 Pilots Forum which has 441 members at the time of this writing.

BackYard Flyer With V-twin
Conventional wisdom for decades has been that it’s too difficult to build a successful four-stroke powered ultralight. Pundits including myself held that the cost, weight penalty, and potential reduction in climb rate would make them impractical. However, efforts by Morry Hummel and Scott Casler with the UltraCruiser and by Leonard Milholland with the Legal Eagle ultralight have been proving us wrong for years. Now the new Vanguard four-stroke 992-cc V-twin by Generac is breaking new barriers by flying successfully in two very different ultralights.

Generac V-twin
Generac V-twin on the Back Yard Flyer

Gene Smith’s Back Yard Flyer has appeared in several versions powered by VW engines, and he’s now flying with the 992-cc Generac V-twin engine modified to produce 40 hp. The intake manifolds and carburetor were changed, and the exhaust system was customized. The engine is so smooth running that it’s rigidly mounted directly to the airframe. Gene and his son Larry operate Valley Engineering LLC which manufactures custom VW engines, belt reduction drives, and the Culver line of props. These resources give them the opportunity to easily experiment with engine modifications, belt reduction ratios, and propeller design to get the maximum thrust out of the package. The result is a very successful ultralight that typically has a trail of enthusiasts following it back to the tie-down spot after a flying session.

The unique swing-wing feature of the previous model has been retained. The one-piece cantilevered wing pivots on the airframe at the center section to align with the fuselage for storage or transport. In the stored configuration, it’s 26 feet long, 83 inches wide, and 74 inches high. The construction is all welded aluminum tubing which saves a lot of weight.

Back Yard Flyer
The swing-wing Back Yard Flyer ultralight

The Generac engine is working out well, but it’s not the ideal engine for every airframe. Its installed weight approaches that of the Rotax 582, so it requires a light airframe to stay under the FAR 103 weight limit. Gene’s lightweight one-piece cantilevered wing avoids heavy wing fittings and hardware. The deep wing gives more strength, and it’s tapered for greater efficiency. Larry says the plane will hold altitude at an engine rpm that corresponds to only 8 hp. The Back Yard Flyer is only available as a completed ready-to-fly aircraft. The price is $19,500 and includes a reliable electric-start four-cycle engine, a two-part control stick that makes getting in and out easy, and a factory-installed soft-pack BRS parachute. Contact Gene and Larry at www.ValleyEngineeringLLC.com.

Buckeye Dragonfly
Buckeye Dragonfly four-cycle powered parachute

Buckeye Dragonfly
The Buckeye Dragonfly single-seat powered parachute is flying beautifully and quietly with the 33-hp Guardian four-cycle by Generac, running it almost unmodified “right out of the box.” Once you hear it flying overhead, you’ll understand the appeal. It’s almost as quiet as electric power. The cute little four-wheeled powered parachute floats along as if by magic. This isn’t your father’s Buckeye powered parachute. The company, now under new management, is focusing exclusively on the FAR 103 powered parachute. The original Buckeye Dragonfly has been extensively reengineered with a new engine mount and many other features. The new simplified flight control system that puts ground steering and throttle on a single stick is intuitive and ingenious. The Dragonfly is available in a three-wheel or four-wheel version. The four-wheeler is nice because it adds fiberglass suspension to the front end.

Bill Clemens from Buckeye Recreation, now in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, said the Dragonfly was specifically designed to fit inside the bed of a standard pickup truck. No trailer is required. The payload is a whopping 300 pounds. The engine with a time between overhauls of 2,500 hours burns 1.5 gallons/hour. The spun aluminum 5-gallon fuel tank will be unaffected by alcohol fuels and should provide for a 3-hour endurance. For more information about what they call “the ultimate scouting tool,” contact www.BuckeyeDragonfly.com or phone 608-280-1476.

Genesis S-LSA
Ready-to-fly Genesis S-LSA for $35,540

SlipStream Ultra Sport
SlipStream International displayed an HKS-powered version of the two-place Genesis, called the Ultra Sport, at AirVenture and attracted attention with the sign announcing a ready-to-fly price of only $35,540. Formerly available as an amateur-built kit, it will soon be ASTM certified, according to the company. If SlipStream can actually deliver at that price, it will push down the starting level cost of a fixed-wing special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA) considerably.

The original Genesis was designed and prototyped in 1992 by the late Chuck Hamilton who also had a hand in the design of the Quicksilver and the Challenger. Company president Bob Bauer has reworked the original design with many improvements including a new fiberglass rod landing gear. The choice of Dacron wings and the HKS 700E engine help save considerable weight and cost. With an average empty weight of 595 pounds and equipped with the standard HKS 700E, the aircraft’s useful load is 555 pounds. The Ultra Sport comes with two 10-gallon wing tanks and a choice of a single center control stick or dual yoke controls. Contact SlipStream International for more information.

BioniX Wing
The first of Air Creation’s new BioniX wing has come to America, thanks to new U.S. Air Creation distributor Michael Globensky of Petaluma, California. The 15-meter wing is designed specifically for the Tanarg S-LSA trike. A company press release announces “The most advanced and patented wing for weight-shift control is here.” The wing sports a dazzling array of advanced technological features yet retains a king post. It’s not a topless strut-braced wing as is the trend.

Air Creation Tanarg
Air Creation Tanarg with BioniX wing

The company explains it wanted to ensure maximum stability and handling at the high speeds now being achieved in normal flight and to provide better stability in extreme maneuvers, intentional or not. They’ve instead explored other areas to achieve improved performance. The BioniX wing has what is known as variable geometry through an adjustable panel in the center of the wing called “Le Corset.” It functions as the in-flight speed trim control. The mechanism changes the washout, the “billow,” and the angle of attack of the center profile at different speeds to improve response and handling. Compared to traditional pitch trim systems, the bar position between fast and slow settings moves far less which improves ergonomics and usable speed range. The wing has tip fins to ensure yaw stability up the velocity-never-exceed of 180 kilometers/hour. Turbulators installed on the central part of the wing exploit the high lift coefficient available under a heavy load. The wingtips feature a series of low-pressure air vents on the underside which literally suck air out of the wingtips to prevent deformations at high speed that contribute to instability. The vents were invented by the German company Bautek.

For parts, service, and information about Air Creation trikes, contact Michael Globensky at 800-971-5233, or go to his website www.SpiritsUp.com.The French manufacturer currently imports only the Tanarg S-LSA and the single-seat FunRacer trike to the United States, but it plans to add one of its more basic trikes to the S-LSA fleet.

Next month, Light Plane World will have much more news about fixed wings, powered parachutes, and trikes at AirVenture 2010 including the story of several trikers from Tampabay Aerosport in Florida who flew their Revo and Apollo trikes nearly 2,500 miles round trip to be at AirVenture.

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