There’s a joyful aspect to flying any low-wing LSA that you just don’t get with a high-winger: the unrestricted panoramic view from the horizon upward. I’ve unabashedly gushed about it before, and going up with SportairUSA’s Bill Canino in the new Sting S3 gives me another chance, so here goes.
The prime factor in the S3’s visceral in-flight magic is the big, clear bubble canopy: Its horizontal and overhead view is spectacular. The one-piece canopy is like a big goldfish bowl over your head. The “rails” of the bubble are almost below your elbows. The clear top runs all the way behind your head, so you can look straight up or crane your neck left and right and see what’s above and behind. There’s also a generous rear window. In fact, but for the single painted stripe where the roll cage spans the canopy, you’d swear you’re looking through a jet-fighter canopy—and a roomy canopy (44 inches) at that.
And in front, the low panel top and slope-down cowl that wraps the Rotax 912 ULS engine gives you a forward view at cruise that enhances the sense of sitting almost on top of the airplane, a bit like a seat in the opera house balcony.
So here we are, Bill Canino, president of SportairUSA, and me, just before sunset over an expansive Florida landscape of dark green foliage, jewel-like lakes reflecting burnt orange, and the towns and cities waking up for the night, spread before us like Christmas ornaments on a vast carpet.
Canino demonstrates the inherent stability of the S3 by accelerating in a dive, then pulling us up and over, strong and sharp, into a gentle wingover to the right, then taking his hands off the controls as it slows, hangs, then slips...smoothly, exhilaratingly...down into a dive.
The Sting S3’s 100 hp Rotax 912 ULS can be monitored via the optional GreenLine engine monitoring system.
Hands On Or Off
“These falling-leaf turns demonstrate the inherent stability and aerodynamic qualities of the airplane,” Canino says. “Watch now, I’ll keep hands off.” As the bird slips down and rolls out into a dive and the ASI shows 100 knots, he gently pulls out, and we round out the bottom. He pulls back on the stick, rolling smoothly in the opposite direction, and back up the hill we go.
We recover and he turns the airplane over to me. Already completely comfy in the airplane a couple minutes after takeoff, impressed by how nominal takeoff and cruise were, I find the S3 solid and tight, like a new car fresh off the showroom. Control pressures are light and responsive. Feedback is constant and true: You always know where you are with the bird. Smooth or snappy turns are effortless without requiring muscular input.
Likewise, pitch is quick but not twitchy. Rudder is effective, but you don’t need much; the net effect is familiarity. It’s a friendly, responsive airplane that’s immediately enjoyable to fly.
Now it’s my turn to do falling leaves. Up and up into the deepening oranges, golds and slate-gray blues of the cloud-filtered sunset, rotating like a big, glorious ball around the unobstructed canopy. Fabulous! The S3 is velvety—precise when you need it to be, forgiving when you’re lazy or a mite clumsy.
Okay, enough blue-sky flying, let’s look closer at this latest evolution of successful light-sport aircraft.
The low-wing Sting S3 offers unrestricted panoramic views through its bubble canopy. Among other features, the LSA comes standard with Galaxy’s whole-plane ballistic recovery system and Garmin’s NAV/COM stack.
The Sting S3 is a carbon-composite, low-wing, tricycle-gear “fun ship” descended from a successful line of light-sport aircraft, including more than 500 production models of the StingSport, Sting Carbon and Star. The StingSport was the fifth LSA to receive ASTM certification in the United States and has consistently been in the top 10 in U.S. sales.
Maximizing the speed envelope of the light-sport category was a goal of designer/producers Miroslav and Petr Kábrt of the Czech Republic. Split flaps, structural stiffness and effective control surfaces deliver excellent slow flight and the light and effective control feel I mentioned.
Creature comforts include effective air vents to keep things cool and a surprisingly quiet noise level in flight. Toe brakes and steerable nosewheel afford excellent ground handling.
A typical S3 instrument configuration uses the Leading Edge Six Pack, a tasty setup that includes a TruTrak attitude direction indicator (ADI). The ADI has several functions: artificial horizon, roll/pitch/yaw and direction indicators, GPS direction, low-airspeed alert and extreme bank-angle alert—all in one round display. Cool!
TruTrak EFIS/Flight Director and other glass cockpit setups are also available as options. The version I flew was decked out nicely with a TruTrak EFIS, Garmin GPSMAP 496 and GreenLine engine monitoring system.
A Deluxe Standard
Two distinguishing safety-centric (and standard) features of the S3 are the Straight/Level safety system button and the Galaxy ballistic recovery system. In a crisis, a pilot or passenger can push the big blue S/L button mounted on the panel, and the airplane goes to straight-and-level flight automatically. The Galaxy system is a whole-plane ballistic parachute system with some impressive features, including a sleeved deployment system and a long-burning solid-fuel rocket that draws the canopy 60 feet away from the aircraft before it deploys, reducing the chance of fouling on the airplane. The parachute company claims the system can be successfully deployed from as low as 100 to 500 feet above the ground, depending on position, speed and trajectory.
Soapbox moment: The airplane parachute is a life-saving concept that was, historically, suppressed for marketing reasons in the early evolution of general aviation. SportairUSA is to be commended for making it standard on the Sting S3. A paradigm shift toward ’chute use on all aircraft could play a significant role in growing pilot numbers and recreational aviation acceptance in the future.
The low-wing Sting S3 has no gel-coat finish, saving 50 pounds of nonstructural weight, and is propelled by a wood-cored, carbon-fiber-composite Woodcomp propeller.
Other noteworthy Sting S3 features include the Woodcomp, a wood-cored, carbon-fiber-composite prop. It’s a three-blade, ground-adjustable fan with a wear-resistant plastic leading edge.
As noted on the company’s website (www.sting.aero), there’s no gel-coat finish on the Sting. That saves about 50 pounds of nonstructural weight, which contributes to a decent 540 pounds of useful load.
My overall impression was of a nicely finished, quality airplane, representative of a maturing industry that now takes fit and finish as seriously as performance specs.
To whit, the company claims the S3 is the most complete, best-equipped S-LSA on the market. Backing up that claim are the rest of a splendid list of standard features:
• Full-time carb body heat
• Garmin NAV/COM stack
• Moving-map GPS with TAWS and XM satellite weather capability
• Zaon MRX PCAS air-to-air collision-avoidance system
• Four-point inertia-reel safety harnesses
• Removable copilot stick
• Full carpeting and upholstery
• Strobes and position lights
• Adjustable rudder pedals
• Toe brakes
• Nosewheel steering
• VHF radio and Mode C transponder
• 406 MHz ELT
Not too shabby. That list of goodies gives you some idea of how serious this company is about attracting, and supporting, buyers.
The roomy 44-inch-wide cockpit can comfortably seat two beneath the one-piece canopy.
A Dream Of Ease
Back to the fun stuff: flying. Well, let’s taxi first.
At idle, the S3 moves along at a fast walk, so you don’t need to jockey the throttle, then stomp the brakes. The steerable nosewheel makes it easy to stay on track.
Climbing out at 60 knots gives a thrill-ride deck angle, and you’ll see 1,000 fpm or more. Rudder control is right there almost as soon as you get moving. Demonstrated crosswind capability is cited at 17 knots, though I didn’t get to verify that on my calm-air flight.
Touch up the speed to 70, suck up flaps and climb out. Then trim up to cruise and enjoy the clean aerodynamics: cruise at 75% (or around 5,000 rpm) is an excellent 116 knots.
The airplane stalls straight ahead and requires nothing more than relaxing the stick or adding the slightest touch of power to keep it hanging on the prop or recovering flight.
Landing procedure is typical for the type: Approach to pattern altitude at 75 knots, drop the split flaps at 70, pitch to 60 knots and set up a standard descent around 500 fpm. Over the fence at 50, flaps to full, flare just above the runway and let it settle. Sweet.
In summary, the airplane is stable yet responsive. Control pressures aren’t too light, but are rather firm and crisply effective. You can get aggressive roll rates without twanging a bicep tendon, and pitch is well balanced to roll.
In more sensual terms, it wraps up something like this: During our sunset flight over Florida, Bill Canino points out a little house far below.
“Look at that house, and imagine the people inside,” he implores. “They may never ever see a view like this in their entire lifetime.”
That makes me think, reveling in the ease and ballet-like grace of one falling leaf after another, smiling in the glorious fire glow of clouds and sundown sky that wheel and flow around that wonderful big clear canopy, that when I’m flying, I’m flying for those people down there, too.
I wish they, and everybody, could be up here with me now, enjoying life sweet as a dream in a Sting S3.