Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Arion Lightning LS-1: Smokin’ Lightning

An all-American speedster that flies as fast as the law allows

In the nose cowl, the six-cylinder Jabiru 3300 puts out 120 hp while burning 5 gph or less.
Arion slowed the Lightning kit from its nearly 200 mph top speed. A fixed-pitch prop took the most knots off the top, and an extended wing closed the LSA low-end gap. “Extra wing area brought wing loading and stall speeds into compliance,” said Otterback.

Thanks to its large cockpit, which is four inches wider than that of a Cessna 172, Otterback and I didn’t bump elbows. Because the wind was gusty, he performed the first takeoff. Otterback advanced the throttle on the 120-horse Jabiru engine and raised the nose a little. In seconds, we flew briskly off the deck.

We didn’t use any flaps, as we had considerable headwind, but when necessary, you can adjust flaps from the panel. I did note, however, that the flaps and trim use a similar lever—implementing a different tactile feel for these might be a good idea so as not to cause confusion. Flaps are an infinite control so you can set them anywhere you want, but there are no presets; Otterback suggests that pilots visually check them.

Aloft, we had time to spread the wings of this swift bird. At 2,900 rpm, we read 116 KTAS. Otterback reported that this speed was close to max continuous power, the hardest you can run an ASTM-certified engine.

Notably different from the ubiquitous Rotax 912 powerplant, the Jabiru is an impressive engine. Not only can it run strong and long at maximum continuous power, but it’s also smooth and easily started. Jabiru powerplants lack the market share of Rotax, but many GA pilots prefer the Jabiru because its operating revs and sounds are more familiar.

Flying upwind and downwind runs to check max groundspeed, I recorded 150 knots with a tailwind and 85 knots into a headwind for an average of 117.5 knots, about as close as you can get to the theoretical max of 120 knots at max continuous power. Throughout the upwind and downwind runs, airspeed indicated 106 to 109 knots, true calculated to 112 to 115 knots.

Shoving the throttle full forward produced 3,300 rpm and 135 KTAS. At that power setting, the Jabiru sounded like it was working. But at max continuous power (2,900 rpm), the six-cylinder engine seemed like it was hardly trying while topping out the LSA speed category.

The Lightning’s impressive performance also translates into breathtaking climbs. Near gross at about 2,500 MSL, with me flying gently, we saw 1,200 feet of climb and 900 to 1,000 fpm. In the hands of an experienced Lightning pilot like Otterback, the LSA can even achieve climb rates of up to 1,800 fpm.

A Fistful Of Lightning
Okay, even if you accept that the Lightning knows how to blast into the blue yonder and zip toward the distant horizon, you might still wonder how it behaves.

Labels: LSAs

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