The BushCat from South Africa is powered by an 85 hp Jabiru 2200 engine and has a max cruise speed of 105 mph.
Coming in for my first landing in the Rainbow BushCat at South Lakeland Airpark, that lovely grass strip just four miles south of Lakeland-Linder field where the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In is in full sway, I'm already at ease with this unique, stylish little S-LSA.
You may know this jazzy, ultralight-style, sewn-envelope-skinned bird by its previous name: Cheetah XLS. Recently revamped and renamed by its South African producer, Rainbow SkyReach, this airplane is substantially identical to the new version, so let's just call it BushCat from here on. Currently, just under 150 Cheetah versions are flying worldwide, most in southern Africa.
"Best approach is around 60 mph," Jon Syvertson coaches from the left seat. He's my demo pilot and a third of the three-brother partnership that is Midwest Sport Aviation of Richland Center, Wis. The trio grew up in an aviation family—dad was a commercial pilot based in Oshkosh, home of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). The boys formed Midwest because they loved the sport-flight world, and they're the U.S. distributor for BushCat, nee Cheetah.
A crosswind gust pops up the wing on short final over the trees, but the big effective rudder and responsive ailerons handle it with ease. In less than 10 minutes at the controls, I've found the BushCat to be an easy, intuitive airplane to fly. So, over the fence at 55 mph we glide, then a touch of power to level above the grass. I'm a bit too high in my feel for the ground as flying speed runs out; we plunk on from about two feet. Rats.
I taxi across the grass—ground handling with the steerable nosewheel is a breeze—then wheel around, line up, pour the coal to the 85 hp Jabiru 2200A direct-drive engine, and at around 40 mph, ease the nosewheel off. A couple of seconds later, BushCat politely lifts itself off the turf to head skyward at more than 500 fpm. It's a pretty hot morning here in springtime Florida, and we're at full load.
Around the horn for a second landing, which is better, and my comfort at feeling the BushCat does what I want to do grows ever stronger. Docility, excellent low-speed handling authority, firm but not stiff roll pressures along with good responsiveness (three seconds from 45-to-45 degree bank) to control and power input: very nice. Landing with or without flaps really is about as difficult as easing back the stick, keeping wings level and letting it settle on.
Rudder Me This
The ample rudder, even though truncated by a fixed bottom ventral fin to reduce adverse yaw (and it works: you don't need much pedal into turns), is highly effective. I'm surprised later when Syvertson tells me the manufacturer rates crosswind capability at 30 mph. That's 25 knots, friends. There aren't many LSA out there in any configuration that will dare claim such a high number.
"Frankly, I'd be more comfortable if they'd list it at 20 mph," says Syvertson, "just so people don't think they should disregard crosswinds in it. But, I've seen the company pilot land in 30 mph crosswinds. The airplane can do it." The big rudder and effective ailerons have a lot to do with that.
A center control stick has hand brakes and serves for both the left and right seats.
Later in level cruise around 80 mph, Syvertson shows off the rudder muscle by pushing full-right pedal. The nose swings hard until it feels like we're flying sideways! I estimate the nose angle at 45 degrees to our direction of travel, Syverston thinks it's closer to 30, but hey, why quibble? It's a dramatic demonstration regardless, and you'd never worry about slip authority on short final, if needed. Even so, the broad slab-side fuselage profile and overall damped-down feel of the BushCat also means you're not likely to overcontrol in yaw.
An Overlooked Training Solution?
I make another no-brainer takeoff, and off we go for airwork. Roll pressures are firm but response is plenty sufficient. The tall center stick with handbrake serves for both left and right seat, with dual pedals and power controls to make training or sharing piloting possible.
Stalls as expected are nominal: BushCat simply mushes along at full aft stick, with a clear pre-stall warning burble. Its low stall speed of 40 mph (no flaps!) and 35 mph at the full-flap setting of 26 degrees makes you feel you're almost hovering. There's a slight nose-down break at stall, more pronounced with full flaps but still truly mild. Relax the stick or add a touch of power, and you're flying again.
In a nose-high mushing descent at full flaps and full aft stick, full throttle produces an immediate change to a 500 fpm climb, with no discernible change in pitch. That's a great characteristic for student training. I remember trying the same trick years ago in a Cessna 152 with different results. I had forgotten to suck up flaps and couldn't figure out why I was stuck ground effect on a go-around training flight. With BushCat, such brainfades are forgiven.
Let's cut to the chase here: I believe the BushCat is a woefully overlooked airplane, a natural for the flight training environment. We hear the constant din of complaint at how expensive LSA are, and it's true enough. Many flight schools are still reluctant to bite the bullet and buy new trainers, and why shouldn't they be? At $100,000 and more—often much more—per unit, the numbers just don't add up for reasonable return on investment.
Introducing The BushCat
|After I flew the Cheetah, I received the following from Michael Gill of Rainbow Skyreach PTY LTD, based in Gauteng, South Africa. The Cheetah XLS will cease production and will be reintroduced to the U.S. at Oshkosh as the BushCat. The main changes:
• New sprung-aluminum landing gear for enhanced "bush" capability, aesthetics and maintenance. Current version is aluminum tube.
World Wildlife Fund of South Africa has received one BushCat and may order several more for surveillance in the bush. South Africa has a serious elephant and rhino poaching problem. "An in-depth workshop was held by the WWF to decide on what aircraft suited their requirements best," Gill wrote. "The BushCat beat all competition due to its rugged bush capability and immaculate safety record amongst other reasons." Law enforcement organizations, also take heed.
Rainbow has secured financing options for qualified U.S. clients. "Purchasing the BushCat is as easy as buying a car," says Gill. The cool zebra color scheme you see in the BushCat photos is a one-off design...and way cool, right?
Even Pipistrel's new Alpha trainer, a sophisticated all-composite S-LSA, currently costs around $85,000. The base price of the BushCat is right around $50,000. Even with a 912 ULS 100 hp power plant—the makers offer four engine packages, and more to come—we're still talking around $65,000.
But it's not just price I'm pitching here. Yes, for owners wanting local fun flying and occasional long trips (BushCat has a 600-mile-plus range, but even at even 105 mph cruise it will take you a while), it's a cheap ride.
Beyond operating costs for flight schools is the maintenance and repair factor. This is an ultralight tube-frame construction airplane, with all-AN spec aviation-grade hardware. To veteran pilots used to aluminum and rivet monocoque construction a la Cessna, Piper and Beech, ultralights often seem, shall we say, insubstantial. But that's a false impression. Thirty years of ultralight flight have amply demonstrated the surprising strength of the technique. Randy Schlitter at Rans Aircraft has built thousands of airframes with this technique, with an excellent durability record. And the BushCat? It's rated at +6, -4G loading...and it didn't even fail at those test loads. That's equivalent to or better than most GA or LSA aircraft you'll find anywhere: It's a strong airplane.
Also relevant to training costs is the easy avail of quick and inexpensive repair. Prang a wing or fuselage tube? No sweat: unbolt it and swap in another one. Can you imagine that with significant composite or built-up aluminum airframe damage? Methinks not."
BushCat has good three-axis control feel and authority, too. Unlike some ultralight-style LSA, it doesn't wallow around in the air. That's perfect for teaching stick-and-rudder skills that will transfer well to any higher-performing aircraft down the road.
And with real fuel-sipping economy, especially for the smaller-engine versions, yet with a claimed climb rate of 700 fpm for even the lowest-powered version (Rotax 582, 65hp), performance isn't compromised. To reiterate, Syvertson and I, with well over 400 pounds of ballast between us and nearly a full tank, flew on a hot, humid Florida day, yet the airplane never labored. BushCat is no couch-potato kitty.
Look at the sidebars for more info on the recent upgrade from Cheetah XLS to BushCat. For now, if affordable cost (this would be a great club airplane), durability, low operating costs and fun flying are on your wish list, I suggest you get over any reticence you may feel at tube/envelope construction. It's not only a proven technology, but with all the nifty bells and whistles, storage compartments (81 pounds max), this flivver makes home the LSA bacon. Don't overlook this diamond in the rough.
More Cool Features
Cockpit elevator trim; ground-adjustable aileron trim; all rip-stop Trylam fabric; four engine choices; electric carb heat as required; Sensenich wood prop; both-side gap seals on elevators; ailerons and rudders; retractable sun screen overhead; multiple zippered compartments for ease of inspection, maintenance and repair.
Avionics: All-MGL avionics including V10 transceiver radio, electronic engine monitors, airspeed indicator, altimeter, compass, slip indicator.
Additional Standard Features: Dual-accessory power adapters; cloth interior with height-adjustable seats and headrests; map pockets; center arm rest with built-in storage; arm rest with integrated throttle; dual four-point seat harness; landing lights; luggage storage area.