Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sling 2: The Soul Of A Fighter

The new Sling LSA from South Africa has the world on a string

Sliding the bubble canopy forward with a satisfying "thunk," I looked at the panorama around me—I could see our island destination in the distance—and took in the smell of fresh leather. The stick felt like an old friend, and the MGL Avionics EFIS fired up to the "Engine Start" checklist. A flip of a couple of toggle switches and a twist of the key, and the engine sprang to life like an eager student on the first day of school. This miniature fighter plane was ready for adventure, and my copilot conveyed an enthusiastic, "Excellent!" as we taxied out.

"Excellent" is a word that a lot of people are using when it comes to this aircraft. Meet the Sling, a brand-new light-sport aircraft (LSA) that has been turning heads since 2006 when Mike Blyth and James Pitman began developing it in Johannesburg, South Africa. Blyth was an early pioneer of microlight flying in South Africa, and had already designed and built several aircraft. He set out to build a stronger, better-flying full-sized aircraft, so he formed a company—The Airplane Factory—to do it. Completed from concept to certification in a miraculous three years, the Sling is the result of Blyth and Pitman's voracious appetite for adventure and for what they term "bringing the spirit of aviation to the masses."

My copilot this day was Matt Liknaitzky, president of The Airplane Factory, the sole U.S. Dealer of the Sling, based out of Torrance airport in Southern California—famed pilot Bob Hoover's home airport. This fact is significant because of the pioneering spirit the entire Sling crew—from designers to dealers—brings to this design. A truly fresh aircraft, this little tiger really is different.

Matt Liknaitzky and Marc Lee demo the Sling 2 over Southern California's coastline.
Liknaitzky met me at John Wayne Airport in Orange County to shake out the Sling and introduce me to its charms. It was imperative that we take advantage of textbook-perfect California skies, so we launched for the idyllic paradise that is Catalina Island, just 30 miles off the gold-coast beaches that lie directly below the departure path at John Wayne. John Wayne, the actor, lived on those same beaches and hated the noise from departing jets. He fought the airport for years, yet they named it after him. I was considering that irony as we winged our way over Balboa Bay toward the "Airport in the Sky," as it's known. All that ocean would give me plenty of time to get a feel for the sleek Sling.

The big news is that the Sling (officially called the "Sling 2" for "2-place") just received its official S-LSA Airworthiness certificate in the U. S. (though it's been selling around the world since 2009). The certification makes the Sling 2 the 125th certified LSA available in the U.S. Those of us who remember aviation in the stagnant early '80s when there were no new airplanes around can hardly fathom 125 LSA out there to choose from—like some crazed, self-service Las Vegas buffet. And the Sling has been famously successful; more than 60 airplanes have been delivered worldwide, with orders to date surpassing 100. In addition to the factory-built certified models, the Sling LSA will be available as an E-LSA (and an experimental amateur-built) kit. The factory at Tedderfield Airpark in the Gauteng Province of South Africa employs 75 people and turns out five Slings per month in a ready-to-fly state, and even more kits. With those kinds of numbers, the Sling's success in the U.S. looks better than promising.
The stick felt like an old friend, and the MGL Avionics fired up to the "Engine Start" checklist. A flip of a couple of toggle switches and a twist of the key, and the engine sprang to life like an eager student...
There's so much different about the Sling that it's hard to know where to begin. The first thing most people notice is that the airplane doesn't look like an LSA. To me, a lot of LSA look spindly and not very substantive. They betray the ultralight roots they came from. But, the Sling looks decidedly formidable, probably due to its construction. The Sling is a stressed-skin, semi-monocoque aircraft, made to ASTM standards from tempered 6061-T6 aluminum punched precisely using CNC machines. The end result is that it's made like a "real" airplane, and it looks agile but not dainty.

Labels: LSAs

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