Regular readers know I have closely followed the Merlin developments. I use plural because developer Chip Erwin has steadily built this single seat flying machine into a whole fleet of its own. At Sun ‘n Fun we saw a display of three airplanes in different variations.
Let’s begin with a focus on the modest cost of Merlin. I promote affordable aviation all day long. That word “affordable” means something different to every single pilot so every time I use the word someone is going to tell me, “It’s still too expensive.”
Look I get it. I’m a consumer, too. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a deal? So here’s the short answer: “Finished Price: $34,000.” That’s a direct quote from Aeromarine-LSA. I know some may say that doesn’t work for them but in this day and age, that is a bargain for a ready-to-fly aircraft. When that buys an airplane built like Merlin Lite, one equipped the way Chip has configured it, I consider that one of the great values in aviation.
Chip is a great salesman for his projects, which builds expectations. Pilots waiting to satisfy their interest have had to be patient but now production is drawing close. A partnership with M-Squared is eagerly anticipated by Chip, M-Squared‘s Paul Mather, and all those interested pilot-customers.
Merlin has grown into a line, with Merlin PSA, Merlin, Merlin Lite (longer wings for Part 103), and hints about a Merlin II. Aeromarine-LSA describes Merlin Lite as “an all-new version of the Merlin, one that has a longer wing and a lighter airframe to meet the FAA Part 103 ultralight rule.” Chip is laser focused on Part 103 with an airplane that looks very conventional: full enclosure including one door on a cabin with lots of windows, complex flaps, a long soaring-style wing, hydraulic brakes, electric trim, modern avionics plus a central iPad mount, airframe parachute, and more.
What visitors saw at Sun ‘n Fun 2023 provides a good glimpse of the final product. Merlin Lite on trigear looked finished and ready for market.
In addition, Chip showed a Part 103 Merlin Lite on straight (that is, non-amphibious) floats. Both trigear landplane and float-equipped Merlin Lite were powered by a Polini 303DS liquid cooled engine with dual ignition, electric start, and battery. The engine produces 38 horsepower at 8000 rpm.
Chip noted, “For Part 103 compliance we only install one wing tank with 4.15 gallons capacity which is good for about 4 hours flying with the Polini engine.” A second tank can occupy ready space in the other wing but it will not then qualify for Part 103.
“The Merlin Lite can be flown as a Part 103 ultralight with virtually no regulations but will require a BRS rescue system to increase the allowable weight,” said Chip. Of course, Merlin Lite may also be registered in Experimental class, which does not have the weight and speed restrictions of Part 103.
One part of the long wing magic, where span increases to 32 feet, is a reduction of stall speed below 24 knots, the limit for Part 103. “A three-hinge Fowler flap employs slots and deflects to 50 degrees to really slow down the aircraft,” said Chip. “Yet when fully retracted the wing becomes very clean. Combined with the cantilevered wing our Merlin lite with this high aspect ratio wing will have a L/D ratio suitable for motorgliding or efficient flight under electric power.”
The focus on motorglider has two aspects. In one case, it keeps Merlin Lite within Part 103’s tight limits despite looking for all the world like a “real” airplane. The other reason is more obscure.
FAA allows a pilot with a sailplane (glider) certificate and a motorglider sign-off to fly without any form of medical. However, motorgliders are not bound by Part 103’s speed or weigh limits, giving this specialized aircraft a quite special niche in all of American aviation. Pipistrel has employed this unique carve-out and now so will Chip.