Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Grandpa’s Kitfox…Not!

A lively, refined STOL winner 26 years in the making

True Grit

This closing anecdote demonstrates the Super Sport's cross-country utility. The airplane I flew belongs to Paul Leadabrand, a lanky, 6' 2" pilot from Idaho, who trains in it through his Stick & Rudder Aviation company. "The students like its stability and controllability," he says, and he oughta know: It has racked up more than 680 training flights and 1,700 landings!

Leadabrand brought the immaculate bird—which hardly looked like a well-used trainer—to the Sebring LSA Expo last January. Four good-weather days got him there in 26 hours.

Even six hours of flying per day didn't sap his enthusiasm for hanging out with friends along the route. That's no doubt due to the adjustable pedals, thick, thigh-supporting Confor foam seats and semi-reclined backs I found so comfortable myself. Four days early for the air show, "I was twiddling my thumbs," he says. Solution? Go flying! Off he and John McBean went, in the Kitfox, to the Bahamas!

"What else was there to do?" he quips. This is obviously a guy who digs flying. After island hopping to the end of the chain at Eleuthera, "We cut the corner and returned nonstop to Fort Lauderdale. In two hours, we only saw a lighthouse on a rock, and water, and flew 1500 AGL all the way." For an encore, Leadabrand flew it back to Idaho!

If you're shopping for an affordable, all-American-made LSA epitomizing solid sport, STOL and cross-country credentials, repeat after me: "K-I-T-F-O-X!"

Skin Deep

Since the dawn of manned aircraft and airships, there have been fabric coverings. Even with modern, exotic carbon-fiber composite and all-metal airframes, fabric skins still are common.

There are many causal factors—prime of which are cost and gravity, still the bane of winged flight. Fabric coverings reduce weight and drag, and augment the strength of lightweight frames. They also protect frames from the elements, and can provide complex curve-streamlined fairings such as where vertical stabilizers meet the fuselage.

Pioneers Otto Lilienthal and the Wright brothers covered their aircraft with cotton fabric. In World War II, cotton and nitrate dope—a highly flammable type of paint used to seal the weave—became ubiquitous.

By World War II, more-powerful engines enabled metal airframes; fabric coverings became mostly common for lightweight civilian aircraft. In the 1960s, synthetic covering materials such as Dacron and Ceconite, which have greater longevity than cotton, became popular. In 1965, the Stits Poly-Fiber process was developed and popularized. It's the covering of choice for Kitfox Aircraft.

Modern fabric covering is typically glued, stitched or otherwise anchored to the airframe, shrunk tight with heat guns and handheld irons, then "doped" with a sprayed-on liquid coating.

Hang gliders and ultralights popularized the sewn-envelope concept that made use of UV-resistant stabilized Dacron sailcloth. The technique still is in use by LSA companies such as Rans Aircraft.

Newer technologies, such as those offered by Stewart Systems and Blue River, use water as the solvent, ideal for builders wishing to avoid the detrimental environmental and health effects typical of volatile glues and dopes.

Some leading examples of traditional fabric-covered LSA that use the glue-on synthetic-fabric process, with heat-shrinking, doping and paint to finish, include the Criquet Storch, Legend Cub and Rans S-6LS (Superflite process), CubCrafters Sport Cub and Aeropro Aerotrek A220 (both use Stits).

Sewn-envelope-style coverings are staples of the X-Air LS and Cheetah tube-and-cable ultralight-style S-LSA.

CubCrafters Sport Cub

Criquet Storch

Labels: LSAs


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