Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Retro Comeback LSA

Thierry Zibi’s new S-LSA embraces pseudo-military design

It's the first day of the AOPA Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, and I'm sitting in a diminutive S-LSA known as the SAM. The airplane's front cockpit embraces me on all sides, and the semi-bubble canopy provides a view of the world unmatched by most certified airplanes.

It's a snug but not uncomfortable enclosure as I watch a King Air taxi past, both pilots leaning forward to check out this shiny, mostly metal, Canadian-registered sport plane. In fact, the front pit is surprisingly wide, about 26 inches across. If you haven't flown many tandem aircraft, you'll be pleasantly surprised with the copious elbow room. If seating were side by side, the SAM would measure 52 inches across.

The SAM (named after designer Thierry Zibi's son) is a clever miniature throwback to a Beech T-34 or Varga-Kachina. Zibi began design efforts when he was living in Paris five years ago, then moved to Quebec, where he recently established his headquarters. The SAM made its first flight in February 2013.

Zibi's Dynon SkyView flat panel display waits patiently with a veritable plethora of displays, everything from rpm, oil pressure and fuel on board to standard, digital PFD flight instruments to moving map GPS.

The SAM is essentially an all-metal aircraft, a different approach than so many of today's LSAs that have embraced composite construction. Zibi feels working in metal is no more difficult than dealing with composites, and workmanship on the SAM certainly seemed first class.

The airplane I was about to fly was the light-sport version; there's also an STOL model (with larger wings) and a CC model (with smaller wings). All of them are available in an amateur-built edition. All rely on a welded 4130 steel-tube frame and metal covering.

As I position the choke for a cold start (yes, a choke on an airplane), crack the throttle and twist the key to the right, automotive style, the durable little Rotax 912 coughs twice and springs to life with its usual frantic enthusiasm, and I can't help but notice the tachometer readout showing numbers running up into the 5,000s. Of course, I remember, the Rotax is a geared engine, as apparently everyone else in the world is aware. Prop rpm is in the fairly normal 2,000 to 2,600 range, after all the greasy gears do their thing.

I tap the brakes individually to make sure they're coming along before I begin taxi. The SAM responds eagerly as if it knows it's time to fly. Tower says taxi to 16, I stir the joystick and check control surfaces for proper deflection, then add a small shot of power to bring the airplane out of its parking spot and onto the taxiway. Nosewheel steering keeps me driving in roughly the right direction, as I search the cockpit to see what I'm forgetting. Zibi plans to offer a tailwheel edition of the SAM, specifically for those pilots who long for the WWII fighter look.

Labels: LSAs


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