Tuesday, April 6, 2010
X-Air LS: Pilot’s Best Friend
Super affordable, low maintenance, doesn’t bite: Give this doggie a bone!
Sure, at 113 mph (98 knots), the aircraft is no greyhound. The ultralight-style, kinda boxy, sailcloth-envelope-covered airframe won’t garner it “Best in Show” honors, nor will its docile handling dazzle you with nimble sheepdog moves. But it will happily jump up for a Frisbee at a better than 800 fpm climb rate.
For flight schools, students and pilots interested in a dependable trainer or local-recreation S-LSA—one that’s easy and fun to fly, low-maintenance in its care and feeding, and never pretends to be more than what it is—the X-Air LS is a solid, affordable airplane that’s up for adoption.
Speaking Of Pedigrees…
On the flight line and in the air, the X-Air LS unabashedly wags its tube-and-fabric tail. For the uninitiated, these are the tangible benefits of this kind of construction:
1. Lightweight: The X-Air LS has a 660-pound empty weight and a 484-pound full-fuel payload.
2. Low cost: At $59,995, it’s half the price of high-end LSA ($125,000 and up).
3. Low repair and maintenance costs: Bend or break a tube? Bolt or rivet in another one. Tear the covering? Fabric repair or replacement is quick and inexpensive ($4,500 for an entire set of envelopes, plus a couple days of labor). Compare that to re-covering with doped fabric, aluminum skin or composite/carbon-fiber surfaces.
4. Foldable wings: These increase the storage possibilities.Yet the X-Air LS isn’t an ultralight: It’s an honest, capable LSA that offers a viable and durable alternative to the $100,000 LSA club.
AKA The Sleeper
Just before I shared its 43-inch-wide cockpit with X-Air General Manager Matt Verdieck at January’s Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, my preconceptions about the X-Air were deconstructed.
I built and flew many ultralight aircraft in the 1980s. I’m well aware that 254-pound, tube-and-fabric aircraft get bounced around like ping-pong balls in strong winds. And since Sebring’s weather was windy every day, I had assumed the X-Air LS would be one airplane that stayed on leash most of the time—I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Due to prevalent gusty conditions, demo flight ops for most aircraft were sharply curtailed—except for the X-Air LS. Routinely, when no one else was flying, I’d hear the snarl of an engine at climb-out revs, and look up to see Verdieck taking another demo passenger for a spin. If he meant to dispel any prejudice against the airworthiness of tube-and-fabric construction airplanes, he couldn’t have seized a better opportunity.
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