Sunday, July 5, 2009

Real Flight for Belite 254 - my pilot report

I have never in my life flown an airplane which I designed critical structures. Nor had I flown an airplane of my own manufacture. Nor had I flown a taildragger, that is, an airplane with a rear wheel.

Yesterday evening, while the nation was focused on July 4th celebrations, all of those things came together at one time for me. I flew Belite 254 around the traffic pattern at Jabara airport many times.

Absolutely amazing. A life moment. A dream come true. Many long hours of work, capped with a time of anxiety, thrill, joy, calm. All at once.

This evening, I flew Belite 254 again. More of the same. With no doors, my views were spectacular. At a cruise speed of about 52 mph, (remember, I'm currently testing with a 28HP engine) the wind feel was just right as it brushed against my arms. The cockpit area was calm.

With air that was very crisp and very clear, I circled Jabara for approximately 90 minutes. I continued to evaluate the flight characteristics of the airplane I have built. I practiced and evaluated takeoffs, landings (in a mild crosswind), climb, cruise, descent.

I found a little time to snap some photographs. I even shot a little HD video while flying.

Our weight continues to be under control, and this is looking and feeling like the world's best FAR 103 legal airplane. We are benefiting enormously from our proprietary carbon fiber spars, ribs, and structures. Our panel is nearly fully functional, and our electrical system is up and running.

I am amazed. OK, that's a self serving comment, but for those who know me, I'm not prone to publishing much words that are so positive. In other words, this is worth paying attention to, and my dream of FAR 103 flight is turning into a powerful reality.

Here's some of what we know:

1) We're currently testing with a 28HP engine. We have no cowl on the bird, so the airstream is seeing the firewall flat dead on. Even so, we're still cruising at 51 mph. Climb rate is slow, but will improve with a cowl and a little more HP. However, I still think this 28HP engine might be ideal for lighter weight pilots.

2) We have a complete electric system. We have electric start, and a high quality radio in the instrument panel. It's beautiful. We'll have a transponder, fuel gauge, temp gauges, altimeter, airspeed, tach time (digital), volts (digital), and gizmo dock.

3) I did a quick check on stall speed. I'm overweight relative to the FAA standard (weighing 200 pounds; FAA standards dictate a 170 lb pilot for the testing); the airplane has a flat firewall in the airstream with very dirty air over the wing roots, and I still saw a 30mph stall. So I'm more or less comfortable with the 28mph requirement.

4) Well, we certainly aren't cruising at 62mph. Yet.

5) We have 360 degree vision, because of the rear windows we engineered into the fuselage. You will love the view. Also, our turtle deck is transparent.

6) Cruise is nearly hands off, as built. Control pressures are light.

7) When you start a turn, the plane just keeps turning. Roll out opposite aileron and rudder to stop any turn.

We've got 3 weeks left until Oshkosh. In that time, I plan to accomplish the following:

a) upgrade to a 45hp engine. We also have a couple of state of the art engines to test with around 33HP.
b) cowl installation for final look over the engine.
c) transponder installation.
d) redesigned fuel tank is nearly done.
e) a couple of tweaks to weight.

and a couple of other surprises.

We will meet our goal of delivering a state of the art ultralight aircraft, with a great engine, a full VFR panel, and an electric system. Our airplane will be easily confused with a light sport, but legally, it's not a light sport. It's FAR 103, no license, no registration. FAR 103 is re-emerging as a viable legal aircraft type.

For those of you wondering about how I transitioned to a taildragger without a formal signoff, I offer the following comments. I received some excellent instruction from a friend who owns a taildragger; he let me taxi his plane at a private airport over and over. Then when I started testing in the Belite 254, I continued by doing low and then high speed taxi tests at Jabara. Finally, I took test hops straight down the runway which I have previously documented. An amazing thing happened though: It ALL came together. I had the feel of the 3 point landing flare at stall; I had the new skill of forcing the tailwheel onto the runway; I had the takeoff feel for the tail lift, and then pulling back to takeoff. I have a new respect for crosswind; I have new methods for taxiing. I do not recommend what I did; I would and must recommend formal training in a taildragger transition course. (But I didn't have to do a transition course, because I'm now flying part 103 -- enjoying the FAA's best last pilot freedom). For the rest of my taildragger transition, I thank God who allowed me to create a Belite 254. They are wonderfully forgiving.

Just about everything is done.

I appreciate all of the inquiries I've received. I'm mindful of all of them, but I have not responded to some of them, because of the crush of things to be done before Airventure. Your patience is appreciated! I remain very interested in dealer inquiries here in the US and distributor inquiries in foreign countries. I will be establishing a partner program which will be mutually beneficial. Please visit me or my crew at Oshkosh.

I love this little plane. It's not an excuse for anything. It's real; fun; and economical.