Sunday, May 1, 2005
The New & Improved Liberty XL2
The composite and aluminum two-seater has already come further than most. Now it’s pulling into the fast lane!
What would you do with a successful two-seat, kit-built airplane? Some folks would be happy to just bask in the glory of it. Others would think about a new model at some point, or a different engine, or even a fast-builders program. But this path was no good for Tony Tiarks, the CEO of Liberty Aerospace.
If you’re Tiarks and you have the two-seat Europa as a starting point and a penchant for sword fighting with windmills, the answer is easy. Just take on the certified aircraft builders on their own turf. Others have done it with fast four-seaters loaded with technology. So Tiarks figured there must be room for a simple two-seat trainer that can be sporty and fun as well. To get there, all he needed to do was jump the certification hurdle.
For any design, the road to certification is a long one. For the Liberty XL2, it started 18 years ago as the Europa, a popular kit airplane with versions flying in Europe, the U.S. and even New Zealand. Tiarks saw a chance for something different. He says, “We’ve delivered over 1,200 airplanes, so we know how to build airplanes. In 1998, I perceived an opportunity in the certified market. What we didn’t know was the FAA certification process. I was convinced that if we could certify the airplane, the market would be large. On the whole, the certification process is a straightforward series of system approvals. Now that we’re done, the Liberty XL2 meets the latest, highest bar for development.”
Even with a good basic design to start with, Tiarks and his legion at Liberty Aerospace had to virtually re-design the entire airplane. “From the very beginning, we did not want to compromise safety in any way. We wanted to exceed FAA standards, not just meet them. Plus, we wanted to emphasize a few things, like ease of maintenance and a simple, robust construction process. We decided to use the most appropriate materials for a particular part of the airplane. For instance, the fuselage is still carbon-fiber composite, strong, light and easy to make. The wings, however, are aluminum. It’s easy to make a strong single-spar wing out of aluminum, and we have a clever way of putting them together. The cockpit is wider and more comfortable than the legacy Europa. More importantly, we have reduced our building process to the point where we can roll the airplane out the door with only 150 man-hours in order to put it together.”
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