Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Meet a top-quality, good-cruisin’, fun-flyin’ German composite
A 42-inch cabin features center sticks and a center-console hand brake. There's a throttle to the left of the panel, and one in the center.
Back to the ELA Executive: I first ran my hands over its smooth, lovely composite structure (which skins a welded-steel-fuselage cage—the wing is all carbon fiber) at the Midwest Expo last September. It was a customer's plane, the first in the U.S., so we couldn't fly it there.
And here I am, a few months later, rolling around the bilious blue on a gorgeous afternoon, enhancing my visual infatuation into hands-on appreciation from the catbird seat.
I'm glad that it's mildly bumpy, because it shows me one of the Executive's prime qualities: a comfortable cruising persona. The airframe handles the turbulence well. And since it's neither twitchy nor noticeably fast in roll—I clocked a 45-degree-to-45-degree bank-angle reversal in a bit under three seconds—it maneuvers with a smooth, firm precision that you can take to the cross-country bank when faced with "textured" air.
Cruise, while not at the high end of the S-LSA speed regime, is still a respectable 105 knots or so at 75% power. And with the 20-gallon capacity, you should get three hours plus a one-hour reserve. Considering our version's useful load of 593 pounds, even with those wing tanks full, you can carry 473 pounds. That's better than many LSA can boast.
The version I flew had yet to find its optimum climb/cruise balance behind a new Duc composite propellor. "It's not pitched quite right," said Mike Hansen, who typically sees a cruise climb around 80 knots...while still climbing at 1,100 fpm! But even with the climb-biased prop, I saw 105 knots, although it took a little more than 75% to get there.
The ELA readily leaves the tarmac, and feels comfortable and stable immediately. It exhibits gentle, straightforward landing characteristics, thanks in part to the three-position electric flaps, effective rudder and ailerons at near-stall speeds and wing-vortices-taming winglets that optimize its clean aerodynamics.
Side note: The ELA name, opines Jon Hansen, presents a bit of a buyer's conundrum. He worries folks will confuse it with E-LSA (Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft kit). "We'd like FK to change the name," he says, "because it's only offered here as an S-LSA." Stay tuned on that one.
Pitch forces are harmonious with roll—maybe a touch lighter. Hansen treated me to a stall series that was nominal and benign. And the robust climb rate and extra lift from fully deployed flaps make for a real "roller-coastery" high-nose angle during departure stalls. You'd have to be seriously distracted not to know you're near the stall with the ELA.
Factor in a clean, attractive speckled-paint interior and very comfortable leather and fabric seating, along with a nice suite of traditional controls such as the thoughtfully placed center console-mounted hand brake, electric flap switch and even a parking-brake lever, and you've got a mature, all-around cruiser and eye-catching local patch flyer, too.
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