We want consistency and we want repeatability and we want conformity, and the way to get that is to stop catering to every whim." Strange words to hear from Randy Schlitter, particularly in the midst of showing off the latest variant in the long line of Rans aircraft he has created, while seemingly catering to whims of his own for the last 40 years. Even more striking, a year after expressing his disillusion with the LSA market to P&P here at Sun 'n Fun, now he was introducing an LSA: The S-7LS Courier, an updated version of his Cub-like tandem S-7 Courier. (Also available in kit as the S-7S.)
Perhaps the founder, president and designer-in-residence at Rans, Inc., was simply proud of what he had achieved with the updated Courier, and was accepting the exigencies that come with making airplanes for the certified world.
As always, the Rans display at Paradise City at Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport (KLAL) had a constant flow of visitor-customers, prospects, old friends, vendors—and a good number were interested in the new S-7LS/S. Tacked up on the wall were blueprints of the new Courier with text highlighting enhancements to the airframe and improvements in the build process. Even better, a real one stood outside.
Rans introduced the S-7 Courier in 1985 and added meaningful improvements in 2012: Fuel capacity was upped from 18 to 26 gallons, aero servo ailerons were added, and the wing structure changed to reduce build time. But this year, Schlitter performed a tip-to-tail upgrade supporting and paving the way for a wider choice of engines, along with cabin enhancements improving its hauling ability for either passenger or cargo. Schlitter notes an additional major change: "It's trending to a lot easier to assemble," he says. "It's dual-purpose: to reduce build time for our guys assembling the aircraft for the certified market, as well as the guys in the field building their own."
The ease of assembly even applies to the livery. "It's a brand-new paint scheme," Schlitter said of the metallic green-over-white exterior. "We usually give a name like Double Swoop or Wave. We try to make it exciting but production friendly." He pointed out that "none of the control surfaces on the wing overlap any other color," simplifying manufacture, though "it does have color overlaps on the tail feathers" where it's easier and quicker to do. "You've got to have a little bling with the wing," he says.
The new Courier sits on a better landing gear system. The main gear has been raised four inches, moved forward three, and widened by seven inches, providing more ground clearance and stable stance. The former two-piece steel tapered-rod gear is now made of two pieces of flat aluminum bar stock, which saves weight, allows more adjustment of the camber and simplifies assembly.
This Courier perches atop a pair of tundra tires. "You can go over trees up to six inches in diameter, land on sand bars, and they float really nice," Schlitter says. "We're running these about 12 psi, way too much for grass, but since we're also going on and off pavement, it's a good idea to run them hard. Otherwise, they wear out real fast, and at 1,200 bucks a tire, you tend to want to make them last."
New Engine Options
Firewall forward, a physically small but far-reaching change to the engine mounts allows use of Rotax ring mounts, while a header tank has been installed aft of the firewall. "The combination of the header tank and ring mounts gives us the versatility of hanging all three different 900-series [912ULS, 912iS, 914iS] engines," Schlitter says. "So it's basically set up to give the consumer some very versatile choices."
For kit builders sticking with the carbureted Rotax 912ULS, "it saves quite a bit of labor because previously, we had to take the carburetors off, and switch from left to right to get the clearance we need, and put on our carb heat system in, so that probably knocked a good five hours off the build time."
Schlitter himself is staying with the ULS mated to a Whirlwind carbon-fiber ground-adjustable propeller. The injected iS, he says, is "expensive, heavy, it's got a lot of mysterious black boxes, and it's still kind of an unproved engine."
Meanwhile, the fuel system has been "greatly simplified," with flexible lines allowing builders to incorporate a swing-wing option (for storage, not towing, Schlitter says). The header tank adds three-quarters of a gallon additional fuel capacity while serving as the reservoir for sumped fuel on its way back to an injected engine.
Rans is now developing larger header tanks, Schlitter says, "because we're looking at some larger engines that consume more fuel, like the Lycoming O-233." A customer's Courier outfitted with the engine is undergoing testing at Rans' Hays, Kansas, facility. "We're doing some performance measuring, and the Lycoming's coming through really nice, so it might find a place in our lineup," he says.
True to its bush plane ethos, the updated Courier retains its standard steam gauge panel, augmented by a Garmin Aera GPS.
Inside the cabin, the panel features analog gauges, augmented by a Garmin Aera GPS; a Skyview 10-inch touch-screen display is available as an option.
A new control stick system incorporates a larger-diameter aluminum tube in place of the three-piece welded assembly on the original Courier, allowing the rear seat stick to be quickly removed by taking out five bolts.
"We had a lot of requests for some way of taking that rear stick out," Schlitter says. "Guys in Alaska want to haul stuff and they don't want the rear seat, and they don't want the stick in the way." The change also saves weight and is easier to install and rig. "In the old system, you had to do a lot of honing and fine-tuning to get it to be butter-smooth. So another change to reduce build time."
At the front of the baggage area, the old lateral crossing spar is gone, allowing the rear seat more aft travel and stowage of full-sized items in the compartment; the rear seat also folds completely forward for unimpeded access to the 50-pound-capacity baggage area, which has a CNC'd liner of thin aluminum and a standard cargo net.
It's easy to load people into the Courier, too. Both left and right sides have fold-down doors spanning 60 inches. (At least one must be closed in flight.) Getting out isn't a problem, either. "I've let Golden Knights jump out of my plane on occasion," Schlitter says.
Bush plane though this is intended to be, the S-7LS has civilized comforts like USB charging ports for the front and rear seat occupants. "That's standard on our certified planes," Schlitter said.
Like the updated Raven introduced last year, the new Courier offers either the straight or classic round tail, like the original Super Cub's. "It's a quarter pound lighter, and that's all the difference you can see between the two," Schlitter says of the classic design. "If they switched it in flight, I wouldn't know. But I do feel like I'm back in the '40s when I'm flying with the round tail."
Flying The Courier
We rolled the Courier the few yards to the turf runway, over the dropped rope, and hopped in. A short run-up and a few hand signals later, we were hustling onto the active turf.
"You can usually get this airplane airborne at 35 mph with what we call a 'jump takeoff,' Schlitter says, narrating his demonstration. "Hold the brakes, full power, get the tail up, and as soon as you see 35, yank the flaps down full. You'll come off the ground, bleed off the flaps and climb out at about 55 to 65, that range."
We level at a few hundred feet agl and head south out of LAL's airspace, where Schlitter can show off the Courier's handling before we head to Lakeland South (X29) for some touch-and-goes.
"If you want to get somewhere, just run to the top of the green, 5,500 [rpm]," Schlitter advises. "That will produce about 100 knots. And if you want to really loiter and stay in the air a long time, drop it down to 5,000, and you'll still be doing about 90. It's no slug," he said, noting, "You do lose about seven mph with the fat tires; it cruises at 108 mph.
With an 8:1 glide ratio, the Rans Courier is relatively slick. "If you yank the power back, it doesn't stop," Schlitter says. "That's one of the biggest surprises to Cub drivers. They say, 'Wow, this thing really coasts!'"
Out over scrubland some miles to the south, Schlitter shows off the Courier's handling characteristics with accelerated turning and departure stalls and a variety of unusual attitudes, from which the S-7LS always rights itself.
"The Courier has always been a very forgiving plane," Schlitter says. Get the plane near a stall, "and if you're still half asleep, it'll drop the nose on its own and try its best to keep you alive. That's largely due to the shape of the airfoil and amount of wing we have. We have about 140 sq. ft. of wing, and the soft leading edge holds on to the air."
Tundra tires (optional), electric trim and an improved fuel system that supports more engine choices send the message that the S-7LS Courier is equipped to deliver great performance to the LSA market.
Visibility is also superb, over the nose, out the sides, even over and under the wing from the forward seat.
Future Flight Path
Heading to Lakeland South, I ask Schlitter about pattern speeds. "It depends on what you're doing," he answers. "If you're in a hurry to get a lot of circuits in, you'll fly the pattern at 60 to 70 mph. I prefer to teach people at the bottom end, 45 to 50, because where most people get hurt is not understanding and having adequate training in energy management."
With LSA certification, more training opportunities may open for the Courier. "About five schools I know of are using them for tailwheel instruction," says Schlitter. "It's enough of challenge as a tailwheel to teach technique, but also docile enough not to intimidate people out of learning to be a taildragger pilot." The schools are "getting good serviceability with very few maintenance issues, and they're tickled to death with the operational cost," he says.
Meanwhile, Rans continues its adjustment to the certified market. "We're shipping far more kits than ready-to-fly aircraft, but part of that's because we never really met the demand," Schlitter says. "In the past it's always been, 'You want to fly a ready-to-fly Rans? You've got to wait six months, maybe eight months.' We're trying to solve that problem by building up inventory. We're trying to stay ahead of the power curve."
Indeed, S-7LSs are in stock now. "You can buy one today, with delivery in one to two weeks," Schlitter says. Prices start at $119,000 and go up to "about $135,000. We'll be putting some digital panels in and that might bump [the price] a little, but not appreciably." As long as he doesn't start catering to every whim.
And if Schlitter has to make accommodations for this new way of doing things, maybe its not because of mellowing, or maturity, but simply for the S-7LS itself.
"Airplanes are supposed to be fun and comfortable," says Schlitter. "You want an airplane that makes you crave flying, and makes your remember why you became a pilot. And I believe the Courier does that very well."