The all-metal Corbi Air Alto 100 is powered by a 100 hp Rotax 912 ULS and cruises at 110 knots. Air-conditioning is offered as an option.
The Corbi Air Alto 100 is a bit of a sleeper. While not the sleekest-looking S-LSA out there, its GA-traditional, Piper-ish appeal goes way, way beyond mere looks. In addition to an all-metal rugged airframe, Alto comes in three basic flavors and offers optional air-conditioning, a true fun-flying persona and a refinement ethic aimed at making it the perfect S-LSA for the U.S. market.
Although already a mature, well-tweaked European airplane, U.S. importer/dealer Ron Corbi and crew have relentlessly—you could even say with messianic fervor—so Americanized the low-wing flivver that it’s more like an aircraft that has been here for several years, rather than recently imported.
Built by Czech company Direct Fly, the airplane debuted a few years back overseas. Meanwhile, Corbi and his brother Dennis, having sold and serviced other S-LSA and GA aircraft from the Salem, Ohio, dealership their father founded 50 years ago, wanted to create the ideal flight-school airplane.
“We flew the original, made in Czech Republic,” says Ron Corbi, “and found it to be very docile. It doesn’t try to go upside down on you in stalls; it’s not going to get a student in trouble; it’s very easy to land, very rugged, very strong. Another popular low-wing LSA has seven ribs in the wing; Alto has 11. So, we looked for things like that.”
A key question for Corbi: How responsive would the manufacturer be to modification requests?
“I’d sold some 40 LSA, but found it difficult to get changes made by the factory,” he says. “With Direct Fly, I get on the phone and they say, ‘Will do.’ Then they do it! It’s really great.”
First Things First
My bottom line for flight reports begins and ends with how well the airplane behaves in the air. Does it return me to the ground feeling like a low-time doof, or bestow Patty Wagstaff-like confidence? Do its cockpit ergonomics require study, or does it feel familiar in its control and switches layout?
Though I try not to let my preload of prejudices influence my evaluations unduly—airplanes fit different folks in different ways—sometimes I climb out of a cockpit feeling like I never fully synced-up with the bird. Other times, an airplane so well fits my sense of well-being, I immediately wish I could book a second date. LSA like the Remos GXNXT, Gobosh, Legend Cub, Pipistrel Virus and a few others come to mind as my ideal of the friendly, superbly crafted, well-harmonized fun ship.
Ron Corbi, left, President of Corbi Air, and team member, ex-Navy pilot Paul Volle, have 49 years of professional piloting experience with the company.
The Alto 100 joins that crème de la crème grouping: It’s as pleasurable to fly as any S-LSA I’ve met in four years. And coupled with Corbi’s firm determination to continually refine it, this is one of those birds that buyers shouldn’t overlook. In particular, Corbi Air’s prime target—flight schools—should find this airplane an attractive addition to the fleet, given its $114,000 price tag, fully loaded panel and training-optimized feature set.
Alto’s cockpit is plenty roomy at 43 inches, and agreeably appointed with a Dynon SkyView holding center stage. The flight-school version boasts a Garmin G3X system as standard equipment, same as the Cessna Skycatcher—but priced $21,000 less.
While the seat would benefit from a tad more padding, Corbi characteristically promises a memory-foam upgrade soon. Meanwhile, the interior is attractively finished, tidily appointed, well organized, and the stick controls (dual, with PTT), knobs and switches are placed right where you’d expect them.
The orderly panel leaves plenty of legroom for the (pending) adjustable rudder pedals with toe brakes. A push/pull throttle has a friction lock instead of a vernier-style center push-button. Nice.
Avionics packages are truly BK-style, “Have it your way.” Corbi says panel faces can be custom cut to a customer’s wishes during construction for just $50. In addition to the SkyView and G3X EFIS displays, Garmin’s SL40 comm radio and GTX 327 digital transponder, PS Engineering’s PM3000 intercom, built-in GPS and TruTrak autopilot are mainstays, while dual-panel installs also are possible.
|Keeping Your Cool|
|Corbi Air commissioned an aerospace company to design and build its optional hybrid auto-style air-conditioning unit, which drops cockpit temps more than 20 degrees F. “We sell them for any aircraft, not just the Alto,” says Ron Corbi. The unit, which adds 35 pounds, mounts behind the seats and directs air forward along the overhead curving canopy and back toward the occupants.
That extra weight includes a Rotax-approved, supplemental, belt-driven, 85 amp alternator, and makes the firewall-forward installation a dual-alternator setup. And Lycoming and Continental-powered LSA won’t need the extra alternator—which saves 15 pounds.
Corbi calculates air-conditioning will help keep occupants from cooking their noodles. Heat stress is a performance-compromising challenge for any pilot.
“It’s a full-blown, electric-powered, Freon-based system, like in hybrid cars,” says Ron Corbi. “We used it last summer, and it worked well, especially taxiing around, and even at engine idle.”
Rotax engines idle near 2,000 rpm. That’s plenty for the A/C, since the alternator is slaved to sync with engine speed. To make room for the second alternator, Direct Fly extended the cowl three inches, giving it a more appealing look.
Corbi adds that air-conditioning only costs about two horsepower in engine performance. Still, pilots are advised to switch off active cooling during takeoffs and landings for maximum available power. For more info on the A/C, visit www.amt-aero.com/flycool.html.
“And we offer the new, compact Garmin GTN 650 touch-screen, integrated GPS/Nav/Comm as replacement options for the Garmin GNS 430 (to be phased out in 2012). We can put in a Garmin GTN 750, too,” says Corbi, ever ready to broaden Alto’s flexibility and appeal. The fully tricked-out, dual-screen model goes for a flyaway price of $126,000, very competitive in today’s market.
Alto’s playroom is replete with thoughtful, handy features: glove box, easy-reach fuel selector, carb heat, cabin heat and parking brake, just for starters. There’s excellent airflow ventilation, good all-around visibility, a one-piece forward-sliding canopy, and don’t forget that air-conditioner (see sidebar).
The flap and trim controls show off Corbi’s attention to fine-tuning. Push and hold the electrical flap toggle down for a second for automatic full flaps, great during hands-full landings. Or just tap it, and flaps go automatically to the next incremental setting.
Push the electric trim buttons on top of the comfortable foam-padded stick (both pitch and aileron trim come standard—unusual for S-LSA) for a damped, smooth, analog-feeling trim change, rather than the hair-trigger, supersensitive trim setup I’ve flown on several other LSA.
|Aluminum Vs. Composite|
|Traditional GA airplanes, until just a few decades ago, were generally made of aluminum. The silver metal has many ideal properties for airframe construction. Composite technology, the revolutionary development utilizing fiberglass/foam sandwich techniques, is quite the rage due to its high strength-to-weight ratio and the flowing design it brings to creative designers. There are criticisms and rebuttals from proponents of both systems. Here’s a short list:
Aluminum Pros: Decades of refinement in application and tooling; light yet strong; quantifiable, predictable strength and fatigue data; recognized lightning-strike properties and protection capability; minimized UV degradation from sunlight; flexes and transmits loads without failure; warns of impending failure; relatively easy to work with.
Aluminum Cons: After contour forming, needs heat treating to regain strength; expensive to produce complex airframes in low numbers; complex tooling jigs required; limited in aerodynamic shaping capability.
Composite Pros: Can be built economically in small quantities, such as by LSA makers and homebuilders; minimal complex tooling required; compound curve, flowing yet strong, aerodynamic shapes possible; not electrically conductive—antennas can be streamlined into the airframe; smoother inherent drag profile (no rivets, etc.).
Composite Cons: Voids (air pockets) and varying strength of identical parts during construction possible—requires tighter quality controls in production; two-wire electrical system required—composites have no common ground; more vulnerable to lightning strikes; UV degradation is a common challenge—must be well maintained; can delaminate with exposure to weather; can fail at full loads without warning; limited airframe life compared to aluminum.
Composite technology, such as the more recent addition of carbon fiber and Kevlar to airframes, continues to improve and be more thoroughly tested and understood. Airliners increasingly incorporate composites into all areas of airframe construction.
The Alto 100 is, simply put, one really fun airplane in the air, and as easy to land as any LSA I’ve flown. The soft, bump-swallowing, strong fiberglass gear is a natural for flight schools, and lifts the aircraft a notch above many of its competitors.
Rolling down the taxiway to takeoff, steerable nosewheeling is just right: neither twitchy nor sluggish. Takeoff was a surprise: At 43 knots, in a slight-left crosswind on a brisk fall day, we hopped nimbly off the runway at one notch of flaps, locking right into a solid 70-knot climb.
Stick handling is pure joy: as sporty and fun as a Remos GX or Gobosh 700, as gentle in landing as a PiperSport/SportCruiser—and without that airplane’s sensitive pitchiness. Alto feels as stable and solid in the bumps as my cross-country favorites, Flight Design’s CTLS and Evektor’s Harmony. In short, its basket of positives makes it a significant all-around challenger to many leading LSA.
Landings are a dream. I greased on my first attempt with minimal coaching from Ron Corbi (a veteran airline captain). It’s easy to set up a nominal glide and it almost lands itself. And its springy composite gear soak up piloting peccadilloes with aplomb.
|MINI FLIGHT GEAR BAG|
|One accommodation Alto 100 and most other LSA owners must address is how to bring along essentials without overflowing the baggage space, especially with Corbi’s air-conditioner taking up some of that behind-seat space.
Sporty’s Pilot Shop, one of my favorite places to catch up on what I’ve been missing in the aviating-gear world, has a nice, padded GPS case that can be commandeered for other carry-along duties, as well.
The Mini Flight Gear Bag is specifically padded to protect expensive portable GPS devices without taking up a lot of cockpit real estate. This purpose-built carry-along, with its 71⁄2×41⁄2-inch center compartment, will cradle most modern GPS, such as Garmin GPSMAPs up to the 496 model, as well as the 96/96C; Lowrance’s 600C, 2000C and 1000; and AvMap’s GeoPilot, GeoPilot II and EKP-IV.
The liner is made of soft, no-scratch material, and has an elastic strap to keep everything safe when you hit the bumps in the air or in the car. There are three zippered exterior pockets for accessories such as removable antennas, power cables, mounting hardware and such.
Overall dimensions: 91⁄2x6x5 inches: big enough to carry and organize, small enough to fit under seats, too. Sporty’s sells it with a six-year warranty for $24.95. Visit www.sportys.com.
Hotrodding, Corbi Style
Some folks are born tinkerers. Corbi, his brother Dennis, Dan Coffey and the Corbi Air crew have taken a good basic airplane and made it into a well-realized, competitively priced trainer or cross-country performer. Its performance envelope (around 105 knots top cruise), speed and range make it ideal for the training market, but it should also appeal to former Bonanza/Cessna drivers not needing that extra 15 knots or so at the top of the LSA-max-speed category.
“We searched for a good, easy-to-fly, safe and durable plane…then started making changes. We replaced the Woodcomp prop with a Sensenich composite, which has a spar and stainless-steel edges to prevent delamination,” Corbi explains. “The firewall was galvanized; we switched to stainless steel. For cold-winter areas, we’re offering supplemental electric heat/defog in addition to the standard cabin heater so pilots don’t freeze waiting for engine warm-up. We also offer a laminar-flow heat exchanger for fast oil warm-ups. That’s important for flight schools with tight back-to-back flight scheduling.”
Corbi also installs a sophisticated Vertical Power VP-X electrical system plus the Advanced Stack Hub, which neatly accommodates modular plug-and-play avionics. “A&Ps can swap out radios in an hour or two,” Corbi says.
“I tried to think of every potential problem for flight schools or individual pilots,” Corbi continues. “We did simple things, like changing from cowl screws to Dzus fasteners, but I also insisted on Phillips instead of slotted heads; screwdrivers can slip and scratch paint.
“Many LSA companies use ‘K-Mart-‘ quality electrical wire,” Corbi says. “All of the Alto 100’s wiring is aviation-grade Teflon coated. It doesn’t cost much more, and it’s so much safer.”
The Corbi Alto 100 made the ASTM approval last summer as the 112th S-LSA. If the cute, well-rounded airplane can find a market niche in this challenging economy (as a workhorse trainer or GA pilot’s downsizer), it could find lots of blue skies in its ever-more-finely tuned future.
Or as Ron Corbi puts it, “I’ve asked the factory for a standard Cessna towbar stud, and we will offer an engine preheater for winter operations. We also have approval from the factory to rig the airplane for IFR. We’ll put on static wicks and incorporate electrical bonding for lightning strikes. Then I want to improve the capability of night flying. We’re replacing the current LED landing light with a brighter one. Then we’d like to…”