Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Light-Sport Chronicles: Snowmobile Engine...NOT!

Kicking the Rotax myth in the head once and for all

Naw, it's got a snowmobile engine, I'm not flying one of those!" Odds are, if you've hung out a bit with experienced GA pilots, especially those who have plied the skies on personal wings for a while, you've heard that about the Rotax aircraft engine.

In case you're new to the game, a recap: Rotax, an Austrian company, is owned by Canada-based BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products). Over the last 50 years, Rotax has created more than 350 designs and built more than 7,000,000 engines! Rotaxes power snowmobiles, Sea-Doo and other watercraft, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and go-karts and, of course, certified S-LSA, experimental and ultralight aircraft.

So why does the "snowmobile" smackdown persist? Good question when you consider:

  • The vast majority of the 120 ASTM-approved S-LSA models use Rotax engines. Most are water-cooled four-strokes, known as the "9" series (912ULS, 914, etc.).
  • Rotax also has FAA-certified the "9" series to FAR Part 33 standards. They're standard on Diamond's HK36 Super Dimona, Tecnam's P2008 certified twin and the Stemme S10 motorglider.
  • All new "9" series engines are TBO'd (time between overhauls) at 2,000 hours.
Yet, the myth persists that an engine produced by a snowmobile maker is somehow inferior. To sort this out, I called my longtime colleague Phil Lockwood. Phil runs a thriving clutch of aviation businesses known, in aggregate, as the Lockwood Group, which offers LSA sales, service and flight training and, specifically to our question, a thriving Rotax supply, service and repair company with customers nationwide, as well as a network of Rotax service centers up and down the East Coast.


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