I'm about to commit aviation at Paradise City, the light-sport/ultralight demo area of Sun 'n Fun's annual Fly-In & Expo. It's spring, when pilots' fancies swing like a weathervane to thoughts of flight. Eager folks line the temporary orange plastic flightline fence, specifically to watch us take off. Showtime!
Rocket To Stardom
The airplane is Just Aircraft's SuperStol, a dope-and-fabric taildraggin' LSA, (offered as an EAB kit, too) with an all-metal wing, welded 4130 steel cage and automatically extending full-span leading edge slats.
But wait, there's more...Fowler flaps; Frise ailerons; full-span, two-segment, automatically deploying leading edge slats; a shock-absorbing tailwheel and the pièce de résistance: a whizzbang, long-throw, air shock main gear oleo strut (to soak up 18 inches of vertical wheel travel), topped off with humongous, almost cartoony bush tires.
Remember the Twilight Zone movie where a crew member sketched wheels that appeared beneath a crippled B-17 to save the day? Yeah: tires like that.
These key components make major contributions to get in/get out anywhere with STOL (Short TakeOff/Landing) performance. Does the name Helio Courier ring a familiar note?
It's not therefore surprising that designer Troy Woodland's dream all along was to morph his highly popular Highlander kit bush plane (300 delivered to date) into a Helio Courier-like LSA performer.
So here I am, strapped into the very comfortable left seat, wondering how well the SuperStol moniker will stand up to hands-on scrutiny. Troy Woodland mans the right seat—his favorite perch—and checks the readouts one more time. The Rotax has warmed up nicely in the humid Florida morning air, and...
"Ready?" he asks.
He pulls in two notches on the Johnson bar flap lever, and the big Fowlers move back and down to the 25-degree setting. Full range is 40 degrees; talk about barn doors.
Woodland cobs the throttle, we jump forward, and then things happen in a real hurry: The tail pops up and he pulls back on the stick and kabonk! Out comes the left leading edge slat and kabonk! Out comes the right leading edge slat, and we're climbing out. Yep. Just like that, and quicker than it took you to read that sentence.
"Well, that didn't suck," I say. Woodland grins and says simply, "Yeah."
Later, I check his two-person demo takeoffs with a stopwatch from the sidelines: three to four seconds typically, in perhaps 75 to 100 feet of ground roll. Not bad. No, not bad a'tall.
There's no VSI on board—the minimal panel sports a Garmin Aera 500, GRT EIS engine information readout, altimeter and airspeed steam gauges, and that's about it—but I'd guess our climb is in 900 fpm range.
Empty weight is 780 pounds (up to 835 depending on equipment), so with 27 gallons fuel, you get 378 pounds useful load at best. Build it as an Experimental Amateur Built certified version (same airframe but rated to 1,500 pounds MTOW), and you're up to 558 pounds useful. Either way, SuperStol isn't for loading up with baggage to fly long distances in, but a relatively slow-flying (90-100 knots), dust-whomping, bog-stompin' funship at heart.
Or as my host avers, "I'm not interested in flying fast. I'm interested in landing in places nobody else can land in."
And They Call It Airwork
Away from the air show grounds, we tool around over lush green fields. I've already settled in and am appreciating good visibility all around, including the big, cambered overhead skylight with enough headroom for pilots up to 6'7".
I like the vernier. It doesn't have the Cessna typical push button, but it's easy to over-power the adjustable friction lock. The trim lever is there on the floor where your right hand falls and is a treat to work: like so much of the SuperStol design—functional and effective.
"Well, the composite prop could be a little smoother," Woodland says after I comment on the smooth engine feel. "I haven't dynamic balanced it yet."
That's insight into his perfectionist nature. SuperStol is his tinker-work in progress, and he'll be making small refinements even as production steps up to accommodate the many orders already on the books.
I pull some turns. Nice! Handling is light and response surprisingly nimble, even with those ginormous balloon tires hanging down in the relative wind. There's minimal adverse yaw and no over banking or rollout tendency. Even at 20 degrees of bank, I can see into the arc of the turn through the skylight, always an enjoyable and welcome safety feature in a high-wing plane. The airplane talks to you in every position with its lively control feel. Sweet.
I try some Dutch rolls and do pretty darn well, and that's giving full credit to the airplane. We attempt some stalls. I say "attempt" because if LSA as a class are generally known for fugoid-style, mush-you-huskies, highly forgiving stall characteristics, SuperStol is just kind of ridiculous in how doggedly it hangs on, with full aft stick, refusing to break.
Slowing down below 60 mph, the slats kabonk out, and as we drop below 30 mph (not knots) indicated, with stick nearly all the way back, there's a noticeable stall warning burble but no break. Keeping wings level with light touches of rudder is a breeze, I could nose-high my way along like this forever and enjoy the local view.
Woodland says the burble comes from the vortex gates along the top leading edge, an experiment he may reverse since the pre-gates prototype had a smoother, low-burble mush feel, which he prefers. "I just want a gentle airplane."
Slow flight speed testing into the brisk, gusty wind, then reversing course, I plot a ground speed of around 25 mph...again, that's mph, folks...on the Aera 500. Into a stronger wind, we could be going backward under full control!
The Eye-Popping, No-Flare Landing
Okay, we know SuperStol can launch from a postage-sized field—Just's home strip is a 400-foot hill, with the hangar at the top—handle like a sports car and hover like a falcon on a windy ridge. It's comfortable, really fun and easy to fly. But now for the acid test: Troy Woodland's signature aircraft carrier-style parachute landing. "I can do a full-stall landing at 22 mph by myself or touch down at probably 25 mph with two on board," he says, softening me up as if aerodynamic heresy was his daily mantra.
Talked through his typical landing simulation at altitude, I chop throttle and haul the stick all the way back to the stops. Speed drops back down into the 20s, yet I find it easy to hold a stable, secure-feeling, high sink rate mush.
I look through the door window. Woodland says the sink rate is around 850 fpm like this, and it looks it—the ground is rising up like the moon's surface must have looked to Neil Armstrong in those final, immortal 500 feet. "On a calm day," he says, "we'd take this kind of descent all the way to the ground. By the last 50 feet, people, especially pilots, are saying, 'What. The hell. Are you doin'?'"
We slide into the pattern at Paradise, and when it looks like we're way, way too high, Woodland chops throttle, the slats bonk out, we settle into that nose-high descent rate and I'm thinking if I were in any other LSA besides a powered parachute, I'd be giving it the gas!
The glide angle to touchdown must be 30 degrees, and the sensation is like riding a glass elevator down 20 stories.
Memories of hang-glider landings flood my brain at the ground rush, which is probably why I'm not white-knuckling the airframe. Then the tailwheel hits, and a couple days later or so, it seems the main gear plops firmly onto the runway. I watch the big oleo gear strut just soak up that sizeable vertical speed bump without a whimper. We don't carom back up into the sky, Woodland works the oversize brakes, and in 30 feet or so, no lie, we've spun around to taxi back. What the hell indeed. Man, what a hoot.
If you have a hankering for fun crazy stuff like landing on the sides of mountain ridges and steep meadows and deep-canyon dinner plates...and jumping back into the air...you won't find an all-around better-performing STOL airplane in the LSA camp.
Lest there be any lingering doubt, I now affirm for all and sundry: The Just Aircraft SuperStol deserves every letter of its name.
SuperStol designer Troy Woodland knew that the SuperStol's performance would benefit greatly from Fowler flaps, Frise ailerons and leading edge slats. Let's find out why.
Frise ailerons are mounted to rotate at their 25% to 30% chord line. This innovation decreases stick forces. When the aileron moves up into the relative wind to make its wing go down, the leading edge of the aileron drops down into the airflow underneath the wing. That air force against the aileron's leading edge aids in rotating the aileron, reducing required stick force.
That deflecting air flows over the top of the aileron to add lifting force, which helps lift the entire wing and also reduces the ultimate required deflection angle of the aileron.
Fowler flaps drop down from the trailing edge of the wing but also slide back, too. (Think jet airliner on takeoff and landing.) This little trick increases the effective chord—or leading-to-trailing-edge distance—of the wing, creates an air gap and increases camber, which transform the inner portion of SuperStol's wing into a larger lifting surface.
Leading edge slats, like Fowler flaps, also increase the chord and camber of the wing. Some airplanes, like the Zenith CH750, have fixed L.E. slats. SuperStol's automatically deploy in and out, pulled forward by the increased angle of attack of the relative wind, to create a gap between themselves and the main wing. The slat develops some lift on its own as air flows around it and the air continues on, some over the wing, which stays attached to the upper surface at higher angles of attack than normal.
Altogether, slats and Fowler flaps deliver a larger wing surface that keeps flying at higher angles of attack and slower speeds for very short field landings and takeoffs—the prime directive for all STOL airplanes—yet they can retract to reduce drag at cruise speeds.