Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Arion Lightning LS-1: Smokin’ Lightning

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

The Lightning’s canopy is hinged at the front and opens into a spacious cockpit. The aircraft comes standard with basic avionics, but glass panels and autopilots are an option.
I use Dutch rolls to learn handling qualities. In the Lightning, I banked to fairly steep angles and was able to keep the nose headed in a straight line. And I did this quickly, which suggested ease in gaining handling familiarity with the Lightning. The Grand Rapid EFIS has an electronic coordination ball that works well, but I’m old-fashioned, I guess. A tube of curved glass filled with benzene holding a steel ball seems more fluid and better guides my understanding of stick-and-rudder inputs.

Having gained familiarity with the Lightning’s well-harmonized controls, I moved to stalls, another good place to learn flight characteristics. The Lightning proved exceptionally user friendly.

Accelerated stalls at 45 degrees of bank tended to roll level from either direction. Straight-ahead power-on and -off stalls tended back to straight and level with the gentlest of persuasion. You don’t need to apply much stick pressure; in fact, merely relaxing whatever pressure you have seems to be a good policy.

In 720-degree steep turns at 45 to 60 degrees, the Lightning asked for an additional 150 rpm to hold altitude, suggesting wings designed for speed, not loitering. During this exercise, I deployed no flaps
The Lightning seems a bit light in pitch; from this, I can envision the potential for a student to exaggerate a post-stall nose-over. Arion can direct a less-experienced, newer pilot to the Jabiru J170 if somewhat more docile handling is preferred.

For landings, Otterback likes to reduce to about 90 knots on the downwind leg, slowing further into the low 50s for final on a low-wind day, or perhaps 60 knots on a gusty day. But he advises that you’ll want to keep it under 65 knots, or you’ll never get the aircraft down.

Because the slippery Arion model wants to stay aloft at higher speeds, Otterback normally uses 40 degrees of flaps to slow down. In the gusty conditions, we used only 20 degrees. Touchdowns proved straightforward, so long as you remember that the plane likes to linger in the air.

Catching Lightning
Along with its sweeping lines, the $93,900 base price deserves close attention. The Lightning comes reasonably complete for this figure, but some pilots may want full glass and a three-axis autopilot. These options will bring the price to well over $100,000, a figure that still sounds reasonable compared to other choices.

The smokin’ Lightning handles smoothly and predictably, and she’s doggone beautiful. If you’re looking for a conventional-flying aircraft with miserly fuel usage that can run as fast as the law allows, then the Lightning may be for you.

Labels: LSAs

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