Tuesday, June 5, 2012
The Look-Homeward Angel
Twisting through the sky in the first SLSA two-seat aerobat!
Jim DeHart of Atlanta Light Sport Aviation, a large LSA flight school based in Georgia, hopes to introduce a new category of competition airplanes for International Aerobatic Club contests. The Comet would be able to fly in the primary and sportsman classes. DeHart also sees the value of the Comet in training, and has six students already lined up for spin-recovery training. He plans to conduct basic aerobatic courses, as well.
We flew the Rotax-powered version, which is intended for sport flying. Since Rotax doesn't condone aerobatics for the normally aspirated reduction-gear-propped engine, we didn't, in the ensuing 30-minute flight, turn the airplane upside down.
I didn't yank the airplane left and right to extreme bank angles to test the truly lightning-fast, smooth and solid control responses the full-span/both-wings flaperon system affords.
Jim DeHart didn't pull us up into a vertical stall, then kick rudder smartly to a hammerhead leftwing falloff. He didn't do loops that pulled the world around in front of my eyes. We didn't perform a barrel roll above the verdant green Florida landscape. None of that happened, just for the record.
We also didn't perform that, I mean a, Cuban Eight. So of course, my face didn't sag like a weary beagle's in these maneuvers that we didn't perform.
Ahem. Let's just say this: I've done a little acro in my day, from hang gliders to ultralights to Citabrias, AT-6s, SIAI Marchettis, Extra 300s and Pitts Specials, but usually as a student or photographer, seldom as PIC. Yet, I can and will say with certainty that this is an aircraft built to rock-and-roll around the sky. Joyfully light in response to control inputs, stick-and-rudder pressures aren't so twitchy that you'll overcontrol, unless you—heh heh—want to. In that respect, it's thoroughly and agreeably an SLSA in character, as well. It's easy to hold in straight and level flight or just boating around, enjoying the view.
But when you do think, "Go left," and move stick and rudder accordingly, in a heartbeat, folks, you're going left. The Comet is stable and won't scare you to death just because you sneeze, then find yourself pointing at the ground half a second later. The Comet is amazingly, exuberantly responsive when you want it to be.
Short-coupled taildraggers can be a handful on the ground. We pulled a combat approach to landing: a steep-banked, 180-degree downwind-to-final curve that rolled us out a few feet above ground. With minute and infrequent control inputs and a relaxed flare, DeHart settled the bird easily onto the numbers on two wheels. We high-speed taxied all the way down Lakeland's long runway, eased off power, then in typical taildragger style, delayed tailwheel touchdown with ever-forward stick until aerodynamic forces ebbed away, then full-back-stick planted the tail and we taxied back to the Hansen Air Group display.
Steering is a breeze, by the way, although from front or rear you do need to do the classic taildragger fishtail to see what's ahead.
Back to this engine question. The Rotax normally aspirated engine isn't designed for acrobatic flight...but the new fuel-injected Lycoming AEIO-233 engine, when outfitted with an inverted fuel and oil system, most certainly is. The acro-ready Lycoming debuted as a static display on a Comet fuselage at Sun 'n Fun, and that booth was mobbed every time I went by, which was several times a day for six days. The Comet has drawn eager crowds since the friendly flying Hansen family—veteran airline pilots (and twins) Ron and Jon, and seasoned airline pilots (and Ron's twin sons) Mike and Mitch—first unveiled it in static mode at the Sebring Expo in 2011.
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