John Absolon takes one of the newest arrivals on the burgeoning Light Sport Aircraft scene, the PiperSport, up for an evaluation on a crisp southeast Queensland morning.
he LSA category was developed by the US FAA in a need to denote a category of light aircraft that would primarily be used in a sport recreational flying role and training. It is not a replacement category, but a new category that is designed for smaller, cheaper, easy to operate aircraft.
In the US LSA category, the FAA limited weight to 600kgs, a maximum level speed of 120 knots, a maximum stall speed of 45 knots, a maximum of two seats, fixed undercarriage and fixed or ground adjustable propeller. The engine was limited to a single electric or reciprocating engine that includes diesel as well as Wankel.
CASA have adopted essentially the same rules as the FAA. However, while the FAA requires LSAs to have a maximum stall speed of 45kts in the clean configuration, CASA also requires the same maximum stalling speed in the landing configuration. Unlike the FAA, CASA doesn’t currently impose a maximum level speed limit for LSAs, and while their US counterparts need a fixed or ground adjustable pitch prop, CASA’s only limit is that LSAs have to be propeller powered.
Up until the introduction of the PiperSport, the main LSA type approved in Australia has been the Bundaberg-manufactured Jabiru. Like the Jabiru, or the various and popular Tecnam LSAs, the PiperSport can be registered on either the RA-Aus register or the CASA VH-register. But if the aircraft is to be used for night VFR or training, it must be registered as a VH aircraft.
The PiperSport started out life as the Czech-built CZAW SportCruiser. Some of this branding is still evident today in the PiperSport, with SportCruiser clearly labelled on the seat harness.
Being first designed as the SportCruiser in 2006 by Czech Aircraft Works (CZAW), now known as Czech Sport Aircraft, it was designed as a kit or production-built aircraft. In January 2010, Piper added the SportCruiser to their model line-up as the rechristened PiperSport and certified it under the LSA rules. The original SportCruiser was fitted with either a 100hp Rotax or 120hp Jabiru engine, but Piper has settled on only the 100hp Rotax for their model.
When Piper announced that they had chosen the SportCruiser as their new entry level aircraft, Piper’s then CEO Kevin Gould announced that, “The PiperSport is an amazing entry level aircraft that will bring new customers into Piper and lead the way for those customers to step into more sophisticated and higher performance aircraft within our line over time”.
The PiperSport is a minimally modified version of the SportCruiser and will continue to be manufactured by CZAW to help keep costs down. Unlike Cessna, who have designed their own LSA model (C162 Skycatcher), Piper chose an existing aircraft that admirably suits the LSA certification without all the development cost. Although 24-7544 (the RA-Aus-registered PiperSport demonstrator used for this test) wasn’t equipped with one, CZAW designed the SportCruiser to be equipped with a ballistic recovery parachute as an option.
Piper will make the inclusion of this parachute standard equipment, but it is planned that this will only be available as an option for Australian delivered aircraft. The distributor for the PiperSport in Australiasia is Aerosport of New Zealand. Anton Meier of Aerosport tells me that there has been quite a bit of discussion between himself and Piper about the level of standard equipment for the PiperSport for our market.
Watts Bridge Festival of Flight
My turn to fly the PiperSport came at the recent Festival of Flight Fly-in at Watts Bridge airfield (YWSG) northwest of Brisbane in the Brisbane Valley. Saturday morning dawned quite cold as typical of the area in late winter, with the day beginning with a temperature in the single digits and a light breeze adding a bit of a chill factor. But as typical also of Queensland, it warmed quickly to a pleasant winter’s day.
A number of aircraft had flown in the day before to join the residents of Watts Bridge’s Queensland Vintage Aeroplane Group and were busily being wiped down from the overnight dew. Soon, many more aircraft began arriving, with types ranging from a P51 Mustang, a T28 Trojan, a number of other warbirds, an Antonov AN2, numerous Cessnas and Pipers, Beechcraft both new and old, assorted homebuilts including one jet and newer types like the Tecnam P2006T (flight tested in our Nov/Dec 2010 issue) and two examples of the PiperSport LSA.
I met with Martin Hone, the Australian representative who looks after the PiperSport on behalf of Anton. Martin and 24-7544 are based nearby at Gatton Air Park. Looking around the aircraft, I found the PiperSport constructed conventionally from primarily aluminium, with a number of composite components including wingtip fairings, canopy frame and cockpit surround and engine cowlings.
The PiperSport incorporates side by side seating for a maximum of two occupants as limited by the LSA category. The aircraft is supported on the ground by a conventional fixed tricycle undercarriage consisting of glass fibre main gear struts and a nosewheel leg consisting of a steel tubing design protruding from its mounting behind the engine firewall down to the fully castering nosewheel. The wheels are covered by streamlined fairings.
Conventional flying controls are present with electrically operated flaps, conventional ailerons including an electric trim tab on the right aileron and a full span single piece elevator with a large electrically adjustable trim tab. The elevator includes horn balances that form the tips of the horizontal tail plane. The fin is swept well back and is also of conventional construction, with the rudder having no trim tab. The whole design portrays a sense of speed and aerodynamic efficiency.
At the front end, the engine cowling is close mounted to the Rotax 921S engine and provides a streamlined appearance. The Rotax develops 100hp and, as in the Tecnam P2006T, incorporates liquid cooled cylinder heads and air cooled cylinder barrels. The large air intake below the propeller is for the liquid cooling radiator.
Smaller, flush NACA-styled air scoops are mounted on the top of the cowling that channel air flow down over the engine to be exhausted at the lower rear of the engine cowling and on the sides are two slightly larger intakes for the other engine ancillaries. All are an attempt at reducing profile drag from large frontal areas of older technology engines and their large darg producing air cooling systems.
The absence of the usual nose air intakes that dominate most piston-powered light aircraft affords the PiperSport improved airflow and hasn’t created any overheating situations so far in the Australian climate. Developing 100hp, the Rotax 912S allows the PiperSport to easily attain close to the FAA limited 120kts maximum in level flight while sipping away at either Avgas or unleaded fuels at a miserly rate.
The PiperSport is equipped with a three-bladed Woodcomp propeller that is ground adjustable in pitch. Martin has the propeller adjusted on 24-7544 for optimum performance in the cruise but I found that this didn’t hinder the take-off acceleration or climb performance. The other PiperSport that was present at Watts Bridge was equipped with an optional constant speed propeller.
The leather upholstery in 24-7544’s cabin featured a red and black scheme that matched the exterior paint choice.
The cabin is enclosed by a single piece composite framed tinted canopy that is hinged on the sides of the fuselage forward of the cabin, making it difficult to accidentally open should the locking mechanism fail. There is an external locking handle on the left side above the wing trailing edge to enable the canopy to be locked when parked, and there are small flush handles in the rear of the external canopy frame to lift the canopy open from outside. The weight of this forward hinging assembly is supported by gas filled struts on either sides of the forward inner edge.
Behind the seats is a shelf that small items could be carried on, and behind that is a larger shelf. The whole area has a weight limit of 18kgs capacity. Tie downs would need to be used to prevent the movement of larger items forward and tie down points are included on the rear most shelf. The shoulder harness mounting points are at the outboard edges of the rear-most platforms.
In addition to the cabin stowed areas, two wing lockers are included. These are situated in the inboard portions of the wing, inboard of the fuel tanks and each are capable of holding 20kgs. The panels covering each locker are hinged on the forward edge and secured closed with five locking screw fasteners.
The cabin is conventional in layout with two floor-mounted stick type control columns that are shaped in an arc back from forward of the seats to a comfortable flying position. There is no reaching forward to a stick that protrudes straight up from its hinging point. Each stick grip is equipped with a rubber surround and mounted flush on the top are the four press buttons that operate the pitch and roll trim. A push-to-talk (PTT) switch is situated on the top forward part of the grip.
The rudder pedals are conventional in design, incorporating toe brakes and can be adjusted fore and aft by pulling a small lever situated under the outboard edges of the instrument panel towards the occupant and then pushing the spring-loaded pedals away from the occupant or letting them come towards you. I found fitting my 189cm frame into the cabin wasn’t too much of a problem.
Each seat is equipped with a four point seat harness including the individual shoulder harnesses that are attached to the lap straps close to the buckle ends. They are held together by a single central automotive style buckle that is easily clicked together. The lap straps and shoulder harnesses are all individually adjustable. Between the seats and situated on the edge of the rear parcel shelf, is a T-shaped handle that is used as a hand grab aid in entering the cockpit. Below that is the canopy locking lever and the headset outlets.
The engine controls including a throttle, choke and fuel selector are situated in the centre console armrest. Yes choke! Not to be confused is the Carb Heat pull knob that is located a little above these controls and the Cabin Heat control just below. The Carb Heat knob, although similar in design being a round pull knob, is larger than the cabin heater control and situated the closer of the two to the rest of the engine controls. However, it would pay to be certain in identifying positively which control’s which before operating. To the left of these two controls at the front of the centre console is the small flap rocker switches and flap position LED indicator.
Entering the cockpit is by stepping up onto the step that hangs down from behind the trailing edge of the wing on each side while placing your rear-most hand onto the rear of the canopy opening. Warning: one at time. It is a bit embarrassing if you both try to climb aboard at the same time!
There is a prominent warning sign on the upper sides of the fuselage above the rear window warning “NO PUSH”. As the metal is quite light, and in this area there is no frame behind it, the skin could easily be pressed inwards.
Once you’re standing on the non-slip strips on the wing you can lean inwards with your rear-most hand grasping the T-shaped handle behind the seats to support yourself and your forward hand on the hand grab hole in the glare shield over the top outer edge of the instrument panel. Then you place your right leg in the case of the left-hand seat pilot into the leg well ahead of the seat and then swing the rest of your body into the cabin. Sounds awkward, but in practice it’s quite easy and avoids stepping on that leather upholstery.
The cabin is quite wide and with my 100kg frame I found it was quite comfortable with plenty of elbow room. I thought it probably has slightly more width than your average C172 or PA-28 cabin - surprising for such a small aircraft.
The main instrument panel in 24-7544 is configured with two Dynon LCD screens. The left display is a D100 Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS), while the right display is a Dynon D120 Engine Monitoring System (EMS). These types of EFIS and EMS displays are becoming more common these days because of their light weight, solid state electronics, and reliability. And in the case of LSAs there is no need for vacuum systems or high capacity power systems to power more advanced instrumentation. Nor is there the need for too many analogue instruments, let alone the panel space for them.
Each display can be configured to display attitude, airspeed and altitude along with engine data in a slightly different layout. The left EFIS is optimised for flight instruments and the right for engine performance, but of course you could configure these differently if you so desired.
Below the left-hand EFIS is a row of switches for the various electrically operated systems (avionic masters, lights and fuel pump). The conventional (OFF, L, R, BOTH, START) ignition key is situated to the extreme left of the panel along with the park brake knob. Between these switches and the EFIS is located the conventional airspeed indicator and below that a conventional altimeter – the only round dials in the aircraft if you don’t include your watch, if your still in analogue mode. These are used as standbys for the EFIS system in the unlikely event of a complete electrical failure.
Below the right-hand display is the various circuit breakers, and to the extreme right the ELT activation switch. In the centre of the instrument panel is the usual avionic stack including a Garmin 296 GPS incorporating a LCD map display, VHF and Transponder. In all the cabin and instrument panel is well laid out and seemed to lack nothing for a small LSA. Compared to the Piper PA28-140 that was the entry level model I first flew back in the late 60s, the PiperSport is far better configured and equipped.
Firing the Rotax
Starting the engine, apart from checking the area around the prop was clear, is as easy as starting a car. Open the choke, and turn the key to START. The Rotax instantly fired and idled smoothly.
The first thing you notice is that unlike your conventional Lycoming or Continental, the Dynon Engine Display shows rpm up to 5000 and the engine idles very quietly. The Rotax is a geared engine and the revs are reduced to the propeller via a gearbox of around 2.43:1 reduction which gives approximately 2000-2100rpm on take-off at full throttle. This makes for very low noise levels in the aircraft and to the surrounding environment - great for those noise sensitive airfields that are unfortunately becoming more common these days. After the engine has warmed slightly, the choke can be selected OFF.
Closing the canopy is done by gripping the sides and pulling it down towards you and securing it closed with a locking handle down between the seat backs. Although the day had dawned quite cool by southeast Queensland standards with a clear sky, the usual rapidly warming day made me presume that under this large single piece, although tinted, Perspex canopy, things might get a little warm. However the guys at Piper have thought about that as well and each side of the cockpit is cooled by a large adjustable air outlet that supplies ram air from individual flush mounted NACA scoops just forward on the fuselage sides. Although the engine could be started and idled with the canopy open, adequate airflow was available even with just prop wash through these outlets whilst taxing.
When I flew 24-7544 it wasn’t equipped with any auxiliary sunshades, but the aircraft has since been modified with a Kroger sliding sunshade that pulls forward over both occupants. This will be a standard fitment on Australian delivered PiperSports.
Taxiing the PiperSport forward was a matter of applying a small amount of power, and although the Watts Bridge parking area is covered by some kind of clumpy grass directional control was easy with the differential brakes through the toe pedals. The only problem I found, and it was when we returned from the flight, was that if you got a little caught on one wheel in the grass at slow speed and the aircraft pivoted a bit around that wheel, the nosewheel could be stuck at quite an angle to the aircraft. From here, any forward movement needed quite a bit of power to get the nosewheel to move forward so it could be straightened it up. However I didn’t have this problem when taxiing out to the end of Watts Bridge’s runway 30 and performed a conventional run-up and ignition check.
After a little wait we lined up and rolled for take-off. Acceleration was quite quick for 100hp, but considering the PiperSport’s light MTOW of 600kgs this isn’t surprising. Rotation was carried out at 65kts and the PiperSport leapt into the air. Only light rudder pressures were required to maintain the centre of the runway.
We settled into a 70kt climb and this produced just short of an 800 ft/min climb rate at 5000rpm. Not bad for 100hp. Fuel flow on take-off and initial climb was a mesially 22ltr/hr. This reduced to 20ltr/hr in the cruise at 75 per cent power or could be reduced further to 18ltr/hr at 65 per cent power. The PiperSport uses either Avgas or 95 octane unleaded.
Cruise speed away from the congested Watts Bridge was at a comfortable 105-110kts in light bumpy conditions at 3000ft. In my initial handling assessment, I noticed that the pitch response was very light and a little oversensitive. This contrasted with the roll forces, which were about normal in feel and rate compared to most other light aircraft. Roll reversals from 45 to 45 degrees could be accomplished in close to five seconds with around two-thirds to full aileron deflection.
I found that if I gripped the stick with my thumb and forefinger around the lower part of the rubber grip whilst resting my forearm on my leg, I could more accurately control the light pitch forces and avoid over controlling. This grip position then made it a little difficult to operate the pitch and roll trim switches as I had to move my hand up the grip and then reach with one extended thumb up and over the top of the rubber grip to press either of the flush mounted buttons.
If the top of the stick grip was angled slightly to the rear and the switches sat slightly proud of the top of the grip, the trim may be operated a little easier. The relevant positions of the elevator and aileron trims are indicated on small LED indicators above the left EFIS display.
I’ve since talked at length with Anton and Martin and they assure me that with a little more time in the aircraft, this becomes unnoticeable. I must admit that I’ve found this in the past with a glider that I once owned that had an all flying T-tail tailplane and was quite sensitive in pitch at first.
One of the regulatory certification requirements of the CASA LSA category is a maximum stalling speed of 45kts in the landing configuration. This was explored on the evaluation flight with a slight buffet onset felt approaching 53kts and a full nose drop and stall at 43kts in the clean configuration or 34kts in the landing configuration.
Whilst flying around the Toogoolawah area, which is also populated by a parachute operation, traffic lookout was very easy due to the great visibility through the large bubble canopy. Not only is the view over the nose excellent, but the seating position also contributes to this as the pilot’s eye line is only just behind the wing leading edge and visibility forward, ahead and downwards is excellent. Visibility to the rear is excellent through the two side windows behind the main bubble canopy back to about the tailplane tips. However, this could be limited if a large bulky item was loaded onto the rear baggage shelf.
Heading back to join the Watts Bridge circuit, this excellent visibility aided in identifying all the traffic and providing a safe entry into a crowded traffic pattern. This is a major benefit for the inexperienced aviator that maybe flying this type of aircraft.
We joined downwind at just under 90kts and after slowing to less than the white arc speed of 75kts and about to turn onto base we lowered about half flap. Speed was reduced further to 55-60kts with full flap as we turned onto finals. Again with such an apparent low seating position, the view over the nose was excellent in maintaining the desired aim point. Flaring into the landing touchdown occurred at just under 50kts and the landing roll was easily maintained with a little rudder use whilst using the toe brakes to control the speed reduction and taxiing clear of the runway.
Shutting down the engine is merely a matter of turning the ignition OFF.
Although the Americans would like to limit options to one PiperSport model, this has proven impossible so far and the aircraft is currently available in three models. Piper will market the three models as the Basic, the LT Training Model, and the LTD Professional. 24-7544 more closely matches the LTD model.
Anton envisages that the model best suited for Australian conditions will not include the leather upholstery and be equipped with a conventional six-pack instrumentation system instead of the D100 EFIS. This not only allows the initial investment cost to be kept down but also allows the options of either constant speed (only for our market – CASA LSA rules) or the D100 EFIS for those wanting a little more.
Buyers of LSA category aircraft should also carefully consider the choice of RA-Aus or VH registration with CASA, as a number of restrictions apply to use in the former category. There are also restrictions if an owner wishes to change from one form of registration to the other at a later date. Information on this issue can be obtained from the RA-Aus and CASA.
For more information on the PiperSport contact Anton Meier at Aerosport in Cambridge, New Zealand by phoning +64 7 8295940 or through their web site (www.aerosport.co.nz). Prices will be in the order of AUD$138,000 for an aircraft similarly equipped to 24-7544.
Wing Span 28.9 ft (8.8m)
Length 21.3 ft (6.5m)
Height 7.8 ft (2.4m)
Maximum Take-Off Weight 1320lbs (600kg)
Maximum Ramp Weight 1320lbs (600kg)
Standard Equipped Weight 852lbs (387kg)
Standard Useful Load 469lbs (213kg)
Maximum cruise power 120kts TAS (222km/h)
Range with 45-minute reserve 600nm (1110km)
Service ceiling 18,000 ft(5486.1m)
Take-off roll (Flaps 0°, Gross Weight) 328ft (100m)
Take-off (50ft obstacle) 820ft (249.9m)
Landing roll (Flaps 0°) 180ft (54.9m)
Landing (50ft obstacle) 591ft (180.1m)
Fuel Capacity (usable) 30 gallons (113liters)
Thanks to Anton Meier of Aerosport NZ, Martin Hone for the use of his PiperSport and Terry Kronk from Emu Gully Adventure Education for his expertise in piloting the photo chase aircraft in Toowoomba.
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