In American Indian lore, the coyote is a mythic totem, known variously as the prairie wolf, God's dog and the trickster. The coyote was respected for its intelligence, resourcefulness and adaptability. As an airplane, the Rans Aircraft Coyote II seems aptly named by making the most of its straightforward aerodynamic pedigree: It's lean, attractive, playful, and handles the elements athletically and with minimal fuss.
A Long Pedigree
"Just as a bit of trivia," Rans Aircraft's eclectic founder and head honcho Randy Schlitter says, "if we lined up wingtip to wingtip the 4,500 airplanes Rans has sold since the company began, it would stretch more than 25 miles."
Randy likes to conjure abstract visuals like that. His artist/engineer/
entrepreneur mind has brought forth, since 1983, a virtual air force of interesting aircraft, including a lifting body, ultralights that can handle brisk Kansas winds, full-on lightweight aerobats and both production and kit versions of popular models such as the current S-6LS and S-7LS high-wings and S-19LS all-aluminum low-winger.
A Randy Schlitter-designed airplane is a pilot's delight. It's impeccably hand-constructed and can be counted on for inventive design implementations in the service of performance and pilot contentment. The Coyote II S-6LS in particular is the classic Rans design: fundamentally functional, cute and spirited, but always in faithful service of number one—the pilot.
I had the pleasure of flying the ELS version a few months ago when it was briefly offered as a $63,000 S-LSA, which put it head to head against other budget-focused LSA.
I had thought the Coyote, with its slip-cover frame that carries the light and airy look of the ultralight breed, would feel similar to those "budget" birds. But that was a merely skin-deep assumption.
Randy has certainly made good use of that iconic bolt-together tube-style construction, but the Coyote is, by no means, an "ultralighty" airplane: It's responsive yet stable; and feels tight, balanced and solid yet is thoroughly enjoyable to fly around the local patch. Poking through some chop, pulling in a couple notches of flaps to curve down into a short-field landing or trimming up for a nice, longish cruise, it behaves like a "real" airplane—with no hidden vulnerabilities or nasty surprises in its highly evolved construction and flying personality.
The Good Doggie
Coyote began life 28 years ago as a single-place, sewn Dacron-covered, 28 hp ultralight. In continuously refined production as an experimental two-seat kit since 1989, the official S-LSA version was ASTM certified in 2008.
Coyote has come a long, long way through a tuning process responsive to customer input—and Randy Schlitter's tirelessly creative brain. Some people are born to think natively outside the box. Far fewer also have the business acumen to produce excellent products and successfully pilot their company through major economic recessions—and in the aviation industry, yet!
All Rans airplanes are completely American made. More than 2,000 iterations of the venerable Coyote design have gone out to 50 countries, including Japan and Great Britain. There are specific reasons for success across national borders and a variety of pilot preferences. At the top of the S-6LS's brag list are a no-nonsense, fun-flying personality; economical operating cost and the hybrid airframe construction that melds a welded chrome-moly-steel passenger cage with an aluminum tube tail. The wings also conjoin beefy tube spars with metal ribs. The airplane is covered the tried-and-true way: with dope and fabric. The stabilized Dacron envelope, clear coated for a surprisingly beautiful, airtight finish, can still be had in the S-6ES kit version. Simply put, the Coyote II has quietly become one of the most popular single-engine sport airplanes ever made.
We Bombed In Hays
Surprising then, and instructive of the vagaries of the airplane business, is how the S6-ELS model didn't attract droves of buyers. Of course, the big factor was the crummy economy. "We put this experiment out at the wrong time," Randy acknowledges.
Still, Google the term "LSA" these days and you'll hear an enduring howl: "LSA are too expensive! What hap-pened to our cheap Saviors of Aviation? Waaaah!"
This popular lament is, of course, unrealistic. "It's a chicken-or-egg thing," says Randy. "Without a volume market, prices won't drop. But without low prices, the market won't grow and businesses won't be successful."
LSA airplanes, ASTM certified, are sold in the very low hundreds per year. Why, then, should buyers expect them to price in the same marketing universe as the automobile, which pours out of factories worldwide by the millions each year?
So wouldn't you think, as Randy did, that serving up—piping hot and ready-to-fly—a $63,000 all-purpose fun flivver like the S6-ELS would bring out all those winged bargain hunters with checkbooks and credit cards waving over their heads? Au contraire. "No one wanted it," he says.
He exaggerates—several of the ELS models were sold—but insufficiently to fuel the economies of scale necessary to bring profits to the company and its dealers. Never a stranger to candor, Randy says simply, "Our customers wanted that super-cheap price...but they also wanted a high degree of customization, all the bells and whistles like digital screens and autopilot, that add thousands to the cost."
The current price for the base S-6LS model is $82,000, with a dope/fabric covering instead of the less costly, ultralight slipcover style and a day-VFR analog instrument panel. The increase reflects the greater cost of the covering process, as well as a sufficient margin to "give our dealers a chance to actually turn a profit."
Rans calls its new marketing style A la Carte. "The new system means S-6LS buyers can now get it ‘loaded'" says Randy, "for a discount of around $5,000, (roughly $94,000) over what they were paying before for our ‘deluxe' $99,000 package." Even the $82,000 base price comes in four flavors: as a tailwheel or tricycle version, and with either of two Rotax variants—the 80 hp 912UL or 100 hp 912ULS.
The Coyote kit caught on back in the day because it delivered on the promise as a short-build project that owners completed in 250 to 350 real-world hours. With so many out there flying for more than two decades, its reputation and accomplishments have approached legend.
"It's been flown across the Atlantic a couple times," says Randy. "A French sailor took his to Oshkosh from France in the ‘90s...then flew it back via the Azores. He brought his girlfriend with him!" The Frenchman also fitted a 54-gallon tank to his experimental-built Coyote to give it 18-hour legs!
All that pond-hopping bravura was delivered on the reliability of an 80 hp Rotax. The Coyote has some competition chops, too—it has won five World Microlight championships.
Before we wrap, here's some stick-and-rudder candy for those of you who like me to drag you into the pilot's seat. My intrepid demo pilot is Mark Pringle, a Rans dealer with his own Utah airpark of 20 buildings and mostly Rans airplanes.
We pull out on the runway, push in the vernier, left for just a second, and all of a sudden, we're climbing at nearly 1,000 fpm, ultralight style. That nice, fat wing with a notch of flaps gives a good short-field feel, call it three seconds of rollout and liftoff between 45 and 50 knots...happened so fast, I missed the exact number!
First impressions: great visibility; immediate response (thanks to pushrod ailerons and elevator); little rudder needed in climb or descent; easy to trim with the slide/lock lever on the panel; turns require little rudder to keep honest, and the Coyote likes to stay where you bank it.
Stalls: so docile as to not merit further discussion.
Coyote handles the punchy morning air surprisingly well for a plane that grosses out at 1,252 pounds (useful load is 557 pounds, which leaves you with 449 for passengers and gear).
There's plenty of room in the 45-inch cabin width, and the top of my head is below the wing bottom, so pilots over six feet still fit nicely.
Like the Kitfox, Aerotrek, Cheetah, X-Air and other lightweight tube-and-fabric aircraft, the S-6LS may not evoke sufficient substantiality for those who feel safer in an aluminum cocoon. Even so, you owe yourself a test flight if you're even remotely persuadable: The Coyote II offers enough happy surprises that it might change your mind.
Cranking and banking through fast roll reversals or just lazing into turns, I loved the quick but measured response: neither twitchy nor tanklike. The big rudder gives lots of crosswind authority too, and needs minimal foot dancing.
Landings, conventional or round-the-curve short-field style, are a breeze. My first, on grass, was total fun. The airplane gives plenty of feedback and settles on agreeably, with enough of a float and good at-stall control that you don't feel you need to nail the numbers right on the button.
Oh yeah: Randy, a veteran pilot who test-flies all his creations, routinely flits around in the Coyote in 20-plus-knot Kansas winds.
Similar in pedigree to the J-3 Cub or similar GA classics, and proven kitplanes like the Avid Flyer, Kitfox, Aerotrek and their LSA variants, you'll be hard pressed to find and enjoy a more-refined, balanced, GA-feeling, joyful 100-knot-cruise airplane than the Coyote.