Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Light-Sport Chronicles: The Time Traveller


Languishing on the sidelines, an exciting S-LSA makes a comeback


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.




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