By Dan Johnson
Let’s get that name dealt with right away—say, “ACK-will-lay.” The model name looks more awkward than it is and sounds more graceful than it looks. The word translates from Latin as “eagle.” Though unusual, Aquilae is a worthy name for a light aircraft.
When you glance at the photos, do you get the feeling you’ve seen this before? You should, but you may be wrong.
Popular Design Configuration
Aquilae looks very much like—but is not—the G1 STOL. Some years before G1 arrived here in the U.S., I’d written about a French-produced version after seeing it equipped with hand controls and its wings folded compactly on a trailer at the German Aero Friedrichshafen show. The basic design has been flying for close to 25 years.
Originally developed as the Yuma by Alisport, a French company, the design was later taken over by G1 Aviation, another French company that does extensive machine shop work for several aircraft builders. Alisport produced plans for its Yuma, and that’s what G1 used when it took over after the original Alisport engineer retired. It is also what Aquilae is using.
Yuma itself may have started as a modification of the Zenith CH-701, though these threads get increasingly hard to follow when changes are made.
All this made me look twice when I first spotted the gleaming Aquilae in polished aluminum.
Mark Mellicker represented the G1 STOL at airshows for the last couple years. As happens in aviation and any other business, events changed the organization and another company at AirVenture told me they were now representing G1. So I had two clues when I saw Mellicker by this shiny new airplane. Mellicker decided to go on his own and, voila!, Aquilae.
You see, Mellicker’s version has the simple wing-fold system that many buyers like. It’s a large-ish, STOL-capable design like G1 that fits the current-day standard for LSA. Gross weight is 1,320 pounds and the design uses the 100-horsepower 912 ULS. That is the one you see in the nearby images as it was displayed at AirVenture Oshkosh 2023.
Mellicker and his Ontario, Canada-based partner Lionel Neels have plans for Aquilae that will transform it into an American-made aircraft. While Neels will do some builder assistance and service for Canadian customers, his capacity may be too small for the interest. Already, Aquilae has generated eight orders.
Mellicker and Neels have teamed up in a cooperative arrangement with AeroPup developer, Don Fielden. Both companies displayed side-by-side at the recent Midwest LSA Expo 2023.
Fielden’s AeroPup operation is based in Lakeland, Florida (home to Sun ‘n Fun). The Florida base will coordinate actives for design, subletting machine work and other fabrication. Fielden will do the main kit assembly provide build center work as will Mellicker in western Illinois (not far from Galena for those who know the area). Neels will handle Canadian interest.
The first Aquilae will use some G1 parts supplied by the French company, but most of the airframe components will be sourced the U.S. Eventually it is planned to become an all-American operation.
Mellicker said Aquilae is “entirely built with 2024-T3 Alclad aluminum fitted over a 4130 steel tube welded frame. As seen, the wings fold compactly so that it can be towed on a small trailer and could be kept in some garages.
Builders can choose between engine and propellers. All models have electric flaps and trim. Two fuel tanks holding 9.25 gallons each are mounted in the wings. Hydraulic brakes are combined with landing gear composed of half blades made of aluminum, steel, composite.
Three models are envisioned. G1 in France developed the tricycle gear model that many pilots prefer. Those who want a more off-airport-capable Aquilae can choose a taildragger that Neels and Mellicker prefer.
The latter will be available in two forms, one with milder bush qualities and one more robust. The standard model still boasts the STOL capabilities but uses conventional gear, albeit with larger tires.
Those what want the full bush plane experience may prefer the Grizzly, which will offer a shock-absorbing tailwheel with large, longer-extension shock absorbers on the main gear. The Grizzly model was also envisioned for the 141-horsepower Rotax 915iS but may now move to the newer, even more powerful 916iS with 160 horsepower. The more potent model will also feature a glass cockpit by MGL.
A float model is also in development with aluminum floats. Mellicker envisions these available in straight or amphibious gear.
“We offer a range of services to meet the needs of our customers,” said Mellicker. “From design and manufacturing to maintenance and support, we are committed to providing the best possible experience for our clients. Our team of experts is always ready to assist you with any questions or concerns you may have.”
“We presume that many customers may have zero experience in airplane construction so we decided to make it simple for our customers,” said Mellicker. “The kit will come 49% preassembled and we believe that with basic home tools you will be able to complete the airframe (before engine installation or painting) in about 150 hours.” Mellicker added in early October that the team was upgrading their assembly manual with improved instructions and lots of pictures to ease the building process.
In summer 2021, a G1 complete airframe kit listed for $39,500. Even after two years of the highest inflation we’ve seen in many decades, here’s a surprise: the price of Aquilae is lower than G1 two years ago.
Mellicker has already collected eight deposits for Aquilae. He believes the first shipments will occur by summer 2024. Of the eight, three want nose wheel models and two want the Grizzly. Having such options helps pilots make the purchase decision.
In summer 2023, an Aquilae kit was priced at $34,950. The builder can add a choice of engines, avionics as desired, any interior finish, and paint or accent graphics. Mellicker thought you could get airborne for $70,000 although choosing the Grizzly model with the more costly Rotax engine and fuller avionics will be more expensive. It might still stay under $100,000 ready-to-fly and as we move into 2024, that price sounds fairly reasonable.
Aquilae by North American Eagle
all specifications supplied by manufacturer
Empty Weight — 731 pounds*
Max Gross Weight — 1320 pounds*
Wingspan — 32.5 feet
Length — 22 feet
Height — 7.67 feet
Folded Wing Width — 8 feet
Cabin Width — 48 inches
Wing Surface — 153.6 square feet
Max. Wing Load — +4/-2 g
Rate of Climb — 1.000 to 1.500 feet per minute
Never-Exceed Speed — 125 miles per hour
Stall Speed — < 31 miles per hour
Take-off Distance — 60 feet to 200 feet
Landing Distance — 95 feet to 200 feet
Range — 500 miles to 585 mile
* not including floats or parachute