LYCOMING-POWERED LSA. The new Falcon LS from T&T Aviation is powered by a 115-hp IO-233-LSA.
Writing for a major aviation publication like Plane & Pilot feels sometimes like being a time traveller. I’m thinking, in particular, of the moment the fictional hero of H.G. Wells’ classic novel The Time Machine first watches the sun, then the seasons, then the aeons fly by as he hurtles ever faster into the future. At times, I feel the same exhilaration/dread that my Wellsian counterpart felt when I meet, greet, then too soon, must say farewell to airplanes, designers, manufacturers and dealers. Some have been in the game quite awhile and will hang in for the long haul. But others come and go like the lightning-fast scenery changes the Time Traveller saw...and it can be a bit jarring.
Currently, 109 LSA designs have won ASTM certification. Even in a robust and thriving economic environment, many of these designs, and the companies of people that come with them, would never sell enough copies to bring a return on investment to their backers. Given the gelified nature of today’s market in new and used LSA, I wonder at times how so many LSA enterprises manage to even keep the hangar doors open.
Yet, like the Time Traveller, I must move like a ghost through this world. I fly, I investigate, I photograph, I write...but in the end, my task is to catch and convey, a sense of the whole unfolding landscape as it flashes by. So I admit to being surprised when I walked onto the big Lycoming display area at Oshkosh AirVenture last August. I had pointed my asphalt-melted sneakers toward the new IO-233-LSA engine. But my path diverted. There, in full view of thousands of show goers, sat the low-riding, beautiful Falcon LS from Renegade Light Sport—one of the most aesthetically pleasing LSA I’ve seen.
Just as my fictional muse watched the walls of his own house crumble to dust around him as he raced through time in his amazing machine, so had I assumed the concrete prospects for a viable Falcon S-LSA had blown away on the winds of time. Then I met Christopher “Doc” Bailey, and my time machine jerked to a sudden stop. Because, thanks to Doc and his backers, the Falcon LS seems poised to perform its own version of Back to the Future.
First, some background on this former air show wallflower. My introduction to the Falcon LS came in early 2008. It was a standout, and not only for the Lycoming IO-235, 116 hp engine that, at the time, made it the only “conventionally” powered S-LSA (Cessna’s SkyCatcher with the Lycoming O-200 wasn’t yet out). The other factor was its sleek styling: It looked like a Red Bull race plane. No coincidence there: Its makers, Corvus Aircraft of Hungary, built the Racer 540, which pilot Peter Bensenyei flies in Red Bull Air Races.
T&T Aviation, run by Tom Pizzuti and Tamas Becse, first brought the airplane to the U.S. market. Dubbed the Phantom back then, it seemed a natural to win the hearts and minds of GA pilots with its 119-knot cruise...and its Lycoming engine. Along the way, the sleek fly-about became number 82 on the ASTM-certified S-LSA list, sporting a new name: Falcon LS.
Around that time, P&P publisher and longtime pilot Mike McMann responded to the bird’s prime pheromone factor—that “normal” engine—and suggested a pilot report. After two years of trying, my efforts proved fruitless. I concluded the airplane was a market lame-duck...until I ran into Doc Bailey. Doc is a 15,000-hour, 31-year pilot and one of only a handful of helicopter crop-duster jockeys. In a fast-paced pitch worthy of a Gulfstream V salesman, he revealed his company had bought out the Falcon project from T&T.
And in 90 seconds, it became clear that Doc Bailey has big, big plans for the Falcon LS, and they all revolve around the new engine. “My clients want the comfort of a light-sport aircraft with an engine TBO of 2,400 hours vs. 2,000, and 2,400 rpm vs. 5,900.”
He’s comparing apples to oranges: the Lycoming IO-233 vs. the ubiquitous Rotax that requires a gear drive to reduce high engine revs down to useful prop speeds.
“When I tell experienced pilots the powerplant in this beautiful aircraft is the same kind of dependable, bulletproof engine they flew in their C-152 trainers,” says the fast-talking Doc, “the comfort level goes way up. ‘Now I can look,’ they tell me. ‘I wasn’t going to get into LSA, but with this engine, I feel better about it.’” Don’t take this as a knock on the wildly successful Rotax, which safely and reliably powers 70% of all S-LSA, but rather an expression of desire from more traditionally minded pilots.
Anyway, Doc and crew had already toiled mightily for three years, along with T&T and Lycoming, in the development and testing of the 115-horse IO-233-LSA. Plans now include shifting production of the entire aircraft to Kansas City. “This will be an all-American S-LSA,” he says. Doc describes K.C. as a town with a glut of former TWA and American Airlines pilots, and 3,000 A&P and AI workers. Finding CFIs and mechanics won’t be a problem.
Then there’s Renegade’s marketing strategy. “We’ll put out the first 100 at an incredible price: $115,000,” says Doc. That’s attractive for a sexy composite bird with a purpose-built Lyc under the long, stylish nose. But when he adds that every airplane will ship with Grand Rapids synthetic-vision EFIS, with built-in GPS and built-in autopilot, my eyes go considerably wider.
“We hope to give a boost to the market,” Doc says with infectious enthusiasm. He wants that first 100 out and flying “within two years—and every airplane will have the IO-233. We’ve already ordered the first 100 engines from Lycoming.” He points at the Falcon’s engine with pride. “That is engine number 0001, the very first in a production aircraft anywhere.”
As if all that wasn’t plenty, Doc promises to roll out the red carpet.
“We also put up a white picket fence, take the new owner’s picture and deliver the airplane. It’s called service. And we give customers as much time as they need to check out in the airplane—without charge.
Will Renegade pull off this grand scheme to single-handedly revitalize the light-sport industry? For my part, I’ll jump back into my LSA time machine and plan to see you in a year or two, when Doc Bailey’s drama has fully played out. But just between us, I hope he pulls it off. LSA and general aviation, wants, and needs, airplanes like the Falcon LS to succeed.