Tom Peghiny, president and founder of Flight Design USA (www.flightdesignusa.com), has enjoyed a front-row seat to some of the biggest developments in modern general aviation. As the U.S. distributor of the mega-selling and insanely popular CT series of German-manufactured, all-composite light-sport aircraft, Peghiny has watched an industry he helped create transform itself into the brightest spot in GA. More than hyperbole, such grand statements paint the picture of one of the most successful light-sport companies on the planet. And the company's "secret sauce" has always been innovation.
A large dose of that innovation has come from Peghiny himself. "I watched hang gliders turn into ultralights," says the unassuming Peghiny from his hotel room in Germany, where he's busy flight-testing the company's latest project. "Then I watched ultralights turn into light-sport and light-sport turn into general aviation; I've been very fortunate." That fortune was propelled by his intense passion for all things aviation.
At just 13 years old, and one of the first hang-glider pilots in 1969, Peghiny was flying around in a hang glider made of bamboo and plastic. By 19 years old, he was already a mover and shaker in the then-blossoming hang-glider world. He helped start Sky Sports, an early manufacturer of hang gliders, and became a competitor in the field, earning more than 35 "firsts" in the sport. Peghiny became an entrepreneur, transforming hang gliding from a perilous and questionable pursuit to a legitimate part of aviation, and led it into the ultralight realm we see today. His pioneering efforts are still carried in many modern ultralight designs.
But Peghiny is a pilot first, and many of those accolades would likely embarrass him. He speaks like a pilot, his words taking on the cadence of someone who has spent nearly four decades in the air. "I'm a huge fan of the light-sport industry in general," he notes. "I'm an enthusiast first, and what I really love to do is fly."
His involvement with Flight Design was an organic transition from his days as an ultralight enthusiast. Elected by his peers as the very first Chairman of an ASTM airplane subcommittee (an international standards-making organization) in 2002, Peghiny says he learned, "More about myself and the industry than ever before." The challenging position led to Peghiny being contacted by Matthias Betsch, who had started Flight Design in Germany as a manufacturer of ultralights and paragliders. Betsch and Peghiny then collaborated to get the German ultralight standard approved by the FAA, which laid the groundwork for the subsequent LSA movement.
The Jubilee Edition CTLSi features 25th Anniversary graphics, contrasting leather seats and performance upgrades. Owners can also make the CTLS amphibious by adding the Clamar 1400 floats option.
A Series Of Firsts
Flight Design had introduced an early rudimentary CT ("Composite Technology") aircraft in 1997, which flew under ultralight rules in Europe. By 2003, Peghiny became the U.S. distributor of the then improved CT ("CT2K") aircraft, and helped it gain certification in the United States under what would become the light-sport category when it was created in 2004. In fact, the very first sport-pilot examiners flew the CTLS when the category was introduced. A success was born.
Since those early days, Flight Design has refined the CT aircraft through its cadre of 30 engineers based in Germany. The CTLS ("Composite Technology Light Sport") is Flight Design's flagship aircraft, though several variations have been introduced, including a short-wing version, a "Lite" version with reduced features, law enforcement and surveillance models, CTs on floats, and more. The company's latest is the CTLSi, which is a fuel-injected model featuring the ubiquitous Rotax 100 hp 912 iS engine.
How successful is this diminutive charmer, with its stubby profile, dragonfly tail and bubble-like canopy? Nearly 1,800 have been sold worldwide, 400 of them in the United States. According to Peghiny, only the Carbon Cub is close to catching up, and the fever-pitch accolades of CTLS owners are keeping sales numbers climbing for the eighth consecutive year.
Flight Design has since sold the first LSA to India, and the CTLS was the first LSA to earn Chinese Type Design Approval—a significant milestone. The CT line is flown in 39 countries, and the CTLS has been flown around the globe three times, including once by the Indian Air Force with Wing Commander Rahul Monga piloting a CTLS on an expedition around the world. It remains the most popular light-sport aircraft built today.
What's The Secret?
The funny thing is there's no "secret" to the success of the CTLS; at least, it's not hidden from anybody. The reason for the success of the aircraft and of Flight Design as a company is right there for everybody to see. "Flight Design has always equipped airplanes with the latest proven technology available," Peghiny explains. "And, from the beginning, we've had a lot of firsts—like being the first airplane manufacturer to use the Rotax 912iS engine—and many others."
He goes on to explain that another reason for the airplane's success is service. "We have a network of support and service centers across the country, and our dealers are much more than just that," he adds. Peghiny credits these centers for being innovators on their own—such as introducing the idea of a CTLS on floats—and providing rubber-meets-the-runway support and answers for their loyal customers. "You have to understand," Peghiny says, "that this airplane is more handmade than any Ferrari today. And what used to be a simple airplane has become very sophisticated." This sophistication has endeared it to a wide variety of pilots.
Less esoteric, but much more pragmatic, owners offer their own opinions about why the CTLS (and now the CTLSi) is so successful: First, the aircraft has some of the best performance in its category. Sipping just five gallons per hour, it will carry a useful load of 550 pounds (110 pounds of baggage) at 115 knots (cruise). That makes it a "real" traveling airplane. Load it with fuel (and something to eat), and it will easily outdistance your bladder. The CTLS can fly nonstop from Chicago to New York City, from Charlotte, N.C., to Dallas, Texas, and from London to Frankfurt or Munich to Rome—easily going 1,000 miles (about 1,800 kilometers).
Second, nearly every owner remarks about the airplane's comfort. Peghiny says that comfort was engineered into the CTLS. "It is ergonomically designed, so it is one of the easiest aircraft to get into." He points out the door, adding that it's mounted well forward and is extra wide. The gull-wing design and the fully cantilevered (strutless) wing create a "barn door" effect that allows full, unhindered access to each seat. I note that with an aging pilot population, this comfort and ease of access has been critical to the CTLS's success.
The cockpit itself is wide and comfortable. At 49 inches, it's wider than a Cessna 182, long considered one of the wider cabins with its box-like profile. The engineered seats and four-point harness, combined with low placement of the glass panel and large windows with no wing struts, creates a helicopter-like cabin with 360-degree views. The Dynon SkyView SV-D700 glass (now with synthetic vision), a Garmin 796 (with options for a GTN 650 or 750), a Dynon autopilot, Mode S transponder, and now ADS-B In and Out, all give the CTLS a big-airplane feel. The BRS airframe parachute is the last feather in the CTLS's cap, bringing peace of mind and confidence to its pilots. No CTLS in the United States has ever had the 'chute pulled.
Flight Design's innovation doesn't end in the airplane. The network of dealers and support facilities that Peghiny told me about are important. Carbon-fiber composite airframe parts are fabricated in the Ukraine, near the Black Sea. The entire aircraft is assembled in Germany, test-flown, then disassembled and shipped to one of seven distributors in the United States. There, it's reassembled and test flown again, then delivered to the customer. "We have no central location where all airplanes come," explains Peghiny. "We train all of our distributors to do the assembly to factory standards."
Peghiny tells me that Flight Design has just partnered with Taiwan-based GSEO to create AeroJones Aviation in Xiamen, China. AeroJones will be building complete CT aircraft from their facility there, and they just completed their first fully compliant aircraft. Aircraft produced in Xiamen will be delivered to customers in China and the Asia pacific region.
The CTLS and CTLSi are fully capable aircraft with sophisticated avionics options that include Dynon and Garmin glass with synthetic vision options. The new Rotax 912iS Sport engine gives it reliable and economical power.
The New C4
What does a company do after it has already achieved significant success? It innovates again and introduces another genre-changing product. That's exactly what Flight Design has done with their hotly anticipated C4.
The C4 is an all-carbon composite, four-place aircraft based on the advanced design concepts that have proven themselves so well in the CT series. The aircraft has been in development since 2008 and was announced to an eager throng at AERO Friedrichshafen, Germany, in 2011, where 40 orders were immediately placed. "It's quite an airplane," Peghiny reveals. "The C4 will feature the all-new Continental IO-360-AF alternate-fuels engine and an advanced glass panel cockpit with an integrated, full-airplane parachute system." The C4 boasts a pedigree that comes directly from the CTLS.
Rather than just another four-place GA aircraft, the C4 makes a radical departure from the aluminum box you're likely picturing. Designed from the ground up as a cross-country traveler (the CTLS is famously suited for long trips), the C4 has some impressive specifications. First up is an astonishing 1,320-pound useful load. To put that in perspective, the venerable Cessna 182 Skylane—which is known as the cross-country king of four-seaters—has a useful load of less than 1,200 pounds, depending on model and configuration. At less than half the Cessna's half-million- dollar price tag, the C4 will become a game changer. And it will haul all that weight at a cruise speed of 160 knots while burning auto gas or just about anything else that ignites.
Peghiny, who is in Germany getting the C4 ready for its maiden flight just days from this writing, is clearly enthusiastic about this next chapter in Flight Design's evolution. "LSA pundit Dan Johnson calls this phase of the industry 'LSA 4.0' for the four-seat aircraft developed by us, Tecnam and Sling," he laughs.
Peghiny tells me that the C4's composite components will be fabricated in Ukraine (like the CTLS), but final assembly will happen in the U.S. Flight Design USA plans on building a final assembly facility for the new C4 in Newport, Vt., including a new 50,000-square-foot assembly building and other facilities. "More than 60 % of the value of the C4 will come from the U.S.," he explains. "It will have a Continental engine, Hartzell prop, Garmin avionics, Matco brakes and tires, and other components from U.S. manufacturers." Peghiny plans on the C4 being available to U.S. customers within a year or so.
LSA State Of The Union
I've been eager to ask Peghiny about how far LSA have come and how he sees the future of light sport. If anybody knows the LSA market, it's Peghiny. "If you look at the LSA industry, there are a bunch of airplanes that never would have happened without it," he replies. "Companies like Pipistrel, Icon, Rans and others are doing some really cool things. LSA gave the industry a huge shot of creativity that wouldn't have been there otherwise."
Peghiny also sees the potential of electric aircraft. "I believe the future is electric flight. We need to create an appropriate regulatory path for electric aircraft, then get those into LSA." We discussed the recent problems with the Boeing 787 batteries, and he cautioned that we shouldn't let that derail future development. "We can't let those issues affect LSA electric development."
As to the future, Tom Peghiny is optimistic as always. "We need to do a better job of making aviation exciting," he suggests. "Will it ever be as popular as decades past? I don't think so. But can aviation be a rewarding and challenging industry, still? Absolutely."
Owner Profile: Jubilee Edition
|Larry Schramm began flying in 1970 and is no stranger to unique aircraft, having owned everything from twins to helicopters, even building and flying an experimental himself. When it was time to retire and find a capable aircraft that was economical, fun to fly, and able to handle the long distances involved in splitting his time between Michigan and Florida, Flight Design's CTLS light-sport was Schramm's clear choice. Not just any CTLS, Schramm purchased aircraft #4 of Flight Design's Jubilee Edition.
To mark the impressive milestone of 25 years in business, Flight Design created a special "Jubilee" series of their CT line aircraft with unique features. The series is limited to only 25 aircraft, so owners will get something uniquely special.
Each 25th Anniversary Jubilee airplane features an upper-management "Godfather" assigned to personally monitor its build process to ensure what the company calls, "An extraordinary level of quality." Jubilee models have a special inscription plate affixed with signatures of Flight Design's top managers, the name of that aircraft's Godfather and its sequential number within the series of 25 models built for the celebration.
Each is equipped with a Rotax 912iS engine, Dynon SkyView avionics, dual displays, Dynon autopilot, Mode S transponder, Garmin 796/795 GPS, electric stabilator trim, two upgraded Bose A20 Active Noise Reduction (ANR) headsets, special two-tone leather interior and panel, and a special 25th Anniversary paint scheme and logo.
Schramm had his CTLSi Jubilee delivered to Sebring, Fla., in January 2014, and has amassed some 120 hours in the aircraft, including three Miami-to-Michigan runs. "I've flown this airplane all around Florida and the Midwest," says Schramm, with an enthusiasm not typical for someone who has been flying for nearly five decades. "I thoroughly love it, and it's a fantastic cross-country airplane." Schramm tells me he typically sees cruise speeds of 120 knots with a four-gallon-per-hour fuel burn. "You can't beat the economy," he smiles.
Schramm represents exactly the customer Flight Design is focused on and for whom they created the Jubilee. Retired and flying for pleasure, Schramm takes full advantage of the qualities that make the CTLS so popular: comfort, economy, reliability and fun factor. "I want to make it clear how much I thoroughly enjoy this airplane," Schramms adds. "It starts like a car and is a joy to fly." Schramm's airplane also features "tundra" tires and ADS-B in and out. "Seeing traffic with ADS-B is a great addition."
Schramm's mission is like other CTLS owners': short hops mingled with longer journeys. The CTLS takes it all in stride and offers additional confidence with its BRS parachute. Pressed to find something he wishes could be improved, Schramm draws a blank. "Well, it took me a while to get used to the moving tape display on the Dynon display," he says. "But I'm used to it now and can't imagine flying without it. I just love the airplane."