As owner of one or another four-place airplane for the last 40 years, I can count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve used all four seats for people. Like most aircraft owners, I’ve consistently purchased at least two seats more than I need, so far, at least five times. Apparently, I never learn.
Good friends Hal and Michelee Cabot of Princeton, Mass., are inveterate travelers who own an immaculate, six-seat Cessna P210R specifically because it has enough room to haul all their stuff. The Cabots make regular trips all over the U.S.
Fact is, most of us rarely fly with a quartet of folks in our four-seat airplanes. Even pilots of rental aircraft tend to fly four-place machines when there are only two travelers, partially because four-seaters are more comfortable and also because two-seaters on the rental market often can’t carry much more than two people—no dogs, no fold-up bicycles, not even much baggage.
The folks at Liberty Aerospace of Melbourne, Fla., have been heavily involved for six years developing a simple, comfortable, efficient two-seater with better performance than most entry-level four-place singles. It’s been a long road to FAA approval largely because Liberty certified the XL2 to the more rigorous FAR
23 (rather than merely certifying the airplane under European JARs and applying for reciprocal approval). Dr. Jason Russell, Liberty’s chief design engineer and an FAA/DER, headed the certification team. Under Russell’s leadership, the XL2 was finally granted its normal category authorization in February and should have begun deliveries by the time you read this.
In some respects, the Liberty XL2 is a different kind of two-seater. The design is loosely based on the British Europa, an extremely popular, all-composite homebuilt airplane conceived in the late ’80s by Ivan Shaw. “Loosely” is the operative term here, as the certified Liberty XL2 has only an aesthetic resemblance to that original homebuilt. The Europa is a Rotax-powered aircraft, balanced on a single, retractable gear with outrigger wheels at the wingtips for ground stability. It first flew in 1992, and some 1,000 kits have been sold in 34 countries.
The Europa’s wide, comfortable fuselage was the major component retained in the Liberty design. Shaw fashioned the airplane around the cabin, a surprisingly large enclosure protected by a 4130-tube steel rollover cage. The wing, landing gear, powerplant, empennage and panel have only a distant resemblance to the homebuilt’s equivalents. Even construction is now mostly metal, although the airframe retains some prepreg carbon-fiber materials.
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