LSA Market. Polish company 3Xtrim is carving a niche for itself with its lower-priced Navigator.
What does it take to succeed as an LSA entrepreneur in this crazy market? Even in an upbeat economic environment, the sheer audacity of jousting with more than 100 competitors is laudable—or foolhardy, depending on your aversion to risk. After flying 3Xtrim's Navigator LS600 (known as 3X55 in Canada since 2006), I asked National Sales Manager George Ezzo the question, "How do smaller companies win the hearts and minds of buyers?"
"With a good product mix, by placing airplanes in reputable flight centers, and by 'Americanizing' components for quicker service and repair." That "mix" will shortly include an E-LSA kit, float and snow ski options, and even two LSA sailplane models. The Polish parent company has built sailplanes for 55 years, and the Navigator already sports a glider tow option.
Considering the FBO question, Ezzo says, "If they've survived this economy, they are in it for the long haul. We'd rather go with 10 good representatives in an existing, proven infrastructure than have 100 less-capable dealers that need constant micromanaging."
What niche might the Navigator carve out for itself?
"It's a decent product with a great useful load. There are faster—and slower—models out there. The all-composite airframe has had no structural issues over its 15-year design life. And we use the Rotax, a proven, wonderful engine."
Price is another positive: In a field of composite LSA typically selling for $125,000 and much higher, the basic model goes for $99,900. That includes a Dynon D-100 glass panel and dock for the included Garmin 396 GPS, Garmin nav/com radios, transponder and steam gauges. The top-line model boasts a Dynon SkyView glass panel, Garmin 696 GPS with AirGizmos dock, leather seats and more for around $130,000.
One challenge all foreign-supplied LSA reps face (about 70% of the market) is getting parts quickly. Although 3Xtrim has changed over to many American-made components, such as tires and Grove brakes, Ezzo says even airframe parts coming from Poland "can get here from the factory and out to customers in two or three days."
Likewise, Rotax service centers continue to manifest nationwide, with more FBOs training personnel in the repair and maintenance of the ubiquitous power plant. 3Xtrim (pronounced "three extreme") may open its own Rotax service center at its KBQR Buffalo-Lancaster Regional Airport headquarters. My inflight impressions confirmed the Navigator as a sporty runabout with decent XC credentials. The cute S-LSA has agreeably nimble handling, with pushrod ailerons/elevator and cable rudder. I clocked an average climb over 800 fpm from 500 feet to 3,000 feet, at just less than full power. Ezzo cites an initial 1,200 fpm climb rate, although 3Xtrim publishes a more conservative 1,000 fpm figure—which is still right up there.
Cruise speed is in the low 100-knot regime, while 75% throttle brings in 90 knots. Stall is a floaty 39 knots, and standard range is 350 nm (18.2 gal) or 450 nm with the larger 22.8-gallon capacity.
The cockpit is plenty roomy at 47.2 inches. Although the seat padding on my flight felt a trifle thin, it was customized for a 6' 5" pilot. George assured me the normal cushion is more tush-worthy.
Most notably, the Navigator is tight, solid and really fun to fly. It handles super easy, is well balanced on the controls and has excellent visibility over its low-profile, longish "puppy dawg" nose. Ground handling with the steerable nosewheel is a breeze. Toe brakes left or both sides are available. Speaking of ground ops, the sturdy, springy, laminated composite landing gear, with 5x1.5-inch main gear legs, seems equal to the task.
The vernier throttle, a love-it/hate-it carryover from GA airplanes, is a smooth operator, whether you dial in small changes or need to push/pull faster power changes.
The ASTM-approved 600 (S-LSA #86) is a composite design. "All conventional fiberglass technologies are used: S-glass, E-glass, Kevlar, carbon fiber. We have a solid foam-core wing and the cockpit area is reinforced to act as a safety roll cage."
An optional BRS airframe parachute is available. The roomy baggage area behind the seats is rated for a maximum 40 pounds. With two occupants, there's no need to calculate weight and balance for a parachute.
Let's linger for a moment on that useful load of 600 pounds. Even with full fuel, the frisky Navigator carries nearly 500 pounds (25 pounds less with larger tanks). Contrast that with at least one sales-leading LSA's useful load that's 100 pounds less, restricting, for example, flight-training operations for a full-size instructor and student to as little as one hour's fuel capacity to stay LSA-legal. That makes the Navigator's useful load significant. Two 225-pound occupants, 50 pounds of gear and full fuel meets the needs of most missions, from training to hours-long cross-country flights.
The Navigator doesn't cut safety corners to achieve that handsome ballast. Its load-factor numbers are right there with GA airplanes (+3.8 G's to -1.5 G's).
I enjoyed flying the Navigator LS600 as much as the Remos GX (designed by the late Adam Kurbiel—who also created the early Navigator), PiperSport and the Tecnam Eaglet trainer. A divergence from the Remos GX is the lack of folding wings. "We're still thinking about that," Ezzo says. "I'm not a true believer: You have to beef up the structure and make it ground-handling goof-proof. That means more weight."
Looking ahead, 3Xtrim will offer night- and IFR-capable versions for appropriately rated pilots. Little details like an oil cooler option with cockpit-controlled shutters for cold climates, custom paint schemes and the lower-priced E-LSA kit version afford pilots looking for an all-composite, fun-flying, midrange cross-country airplane at a competitive price the justification to look closer.
We'll want to pay attention to how well smaller companies like 3Xtrim manifest their market in the ever-growing LSA experiment. There are so many attractive, worthy aircraft out there, it seems likely that success will come to those outfits that offer safe, fun-flying aircraft, at a decent price, with plenty of options...and that can also properly service and support them.
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