Plane & Pilot
Monday, July 1, 2013

Badlands Buster

Pictures from an exhibition of LSA STOL like you’ve never seen before

I try some Dutch rolls and do pretty darn well, and that's giving full credit to the airplane. We attempt some stalls. I say "attempt" because if LSA as a class are generally known for fugoid-style, mush-you-huskies, highly forgiving stall characteristics, SuperStol is just kind of ridiculous in how doggedly it hangs on, with full aft stick, refusing to break.

Slowing down below 60 mph, the slats kabonk out, and as we drop below 30 mph (not knots) indicated, with stick nearly all the way back, there's a noticeable stall warning burble but no break. Keeping wings level with light touches of rudder is a breeze, I could nose-high my way along like this forever and enjoy the local view.

Woodland says the burble comes from the vortex gates along the top leading edge, an experiment he may reverse since the pre-gates prototype had a smoother, low-burble mush feel, which he prefers. "I just want a gentle airplane."

Slow flight speed testing into the brisk, gusty wind, then reversing course, I plot a ground speed of around 25 mph...again, that's mph, folks...on the Aera 500. Into a stronger wind, we could be going backward under full control!

The Eye-Popping, No-Flare Landing
Okay, we know SuperStol can launch from a postage-sized field—Just's home strip is a 400-foot hill, with the hangar at the top—handle like a sports car and hover like a falcon on a windy ridge. It's comfortable, really fun and easy to fly. But now for the acid test: Troy Woodland's signature aircraft carrier-style parachute landing. "I can do a full-stall landing at 22 mph by myself or touch down at probably 25 mph with two on board," he says, softening me up as if aerodynamic heresy was his daily mantra.

Talked through his typical landing simulation at altitude, I chop throttle and haul the stick all the way back to the stops. Speed drops back down into the 20s, yet I find it easy to hold a stable, secure-feeling, high sink rate mush.

I look through the door window. Woodland says the sink rate is around 850 fpm like this, and it looks it—the ground is rising up like the moon's surface must have looked to Neil Armstrong in those final, immortal 500 feet. "On a calm day," he says, "we'd take this kind of descent all the way to the ground. By the last 50 feet, people, especially pilots, are saying, 'What. The hell. Are you doin'?'"

We slide into the pattern at Paradise, and when it looks like we're way, way too high, Woodland chops throttle, the slats bonk out, we settle into that nose-high descent rate and I'm thinking if I were in any other LSA besides a powered parachute, I'd be giving it the gas!

The glide angle to touchdown must be 30 degrees, and the sensation is like riding a glass elevator down 20 stories.

Labels: LSAs


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