With great regret, I’ve decided to sell my Maxair Drifter and get another LSA. Fellow pilots have been urging me to “upgrade” for years. Many of them are frankly astonished that I’ve continued to fly my venerable Drifter, especially on such long distance flights. (Since 2000, I’ve made a long-distance flight each year; the shortest was two weeks and 2800 miles; the longest was seven weeks and 7500 miles.)
My Drifter was built in 1984 and I’m the third owner. It’s completely open and has been described as a molded plastic seat mounted on an irrigation pipe with a lawnmower engine and wings. However others may disdain it, it’s served me well in the 18 years I’ve been flying it. But its cruise speed is 55-65 mph, although I can push it to 70 mph if I absolutely need to. The pilots I’ve been flying with are all flying slightly faster E-LSAs, and are getting tired of waiting for me on our long distance flights. Another 10 mph will make a big difference in keeping up.
As soon as I started mentioning to fellow pilots that I was thinking of getting another slow-end, ultralight-type LSA, suggestions started to pour in. Everyone has their favorite. Challenger…Rans… Quicksilver… Kolb… Hawk…Thundergull… the suggestions came hard and fast. Yet with one exception, not a single person asked me about the type of flying I wanted to do, and what I was looking for in a flying machine.
As with what type of flying certificate you should work toward, (see my last blog post,) I think you should start with what type of flying you want to do, which will help you determine the flying characteristics you’re looking for and then see which aircraft have those flying characteristics. My list has four criteria: 1) fixed wing; 2) open cockpit with seat in front of, not under, the wing; 3) cruise speed between 60-75 mph, and 4) pre-owned.
1. Fixed wing
I love flying weight shift trikes, and if I could afford two ultralight-type E-LSAs, my second one would definitely be a trike. But for long distance flying, I prefer a fixed wing, since they don’t take as much “work” to fly. The trike’s control bar – in windy conditions – can require a lot of upper body strength, and for me, is tiring to fly for hours and hours, day after day.
2. Open cockpit, with pilot seated out in front of the wing
My Maxair Drifter has a very small windshield, which serves primarily to protect the instrument panel. It offers almost no wind protection, so you are really “out there in the elements.” Wonderful feeling of the wind in my face, but the downside is the facial acupuncture when I fly through a rain cell. I sit out in front of the wing, so the view is astounding. NOTHING to hinder the view.
When I told folks I wanted an open cockpit, most said, “You can buy a fully enclosed and take off the doors.” But then you’re looking through lexan/plexiglass (often scratched) and at the tubing for the windshield and doors. I don’t want that. I’m willing to go with a slight windshield, but not much of one.
3. Speed range
This is the main reason for that I want a new plane. My Drifter cruises at 50-65 mph in calm air and stalls at about 38 mph. A primary reason for buying a new plane is to increase my top end speed a bit. I’m looking for something that cruises 60-75 mph. Not a big increase, but more than my Drifter is capable of. I still want a “low” stall speed – not more than 45 mph, and preferably lower.
I have no interest in building from a kit, and I can’t afford to hire someone to build a plane for me. With so many used aircraft available, many in really good condition, I don’t see the need to buy new.
So these were my four requirements. It doesn’t matter to me whether it is a single or a two-seater. Norm (my husband) is adamant that I don’t take people flying. He says “We’re too old to start over again financially, if you take someone for a flight and something happens and they sue us.” He feel very, very strongly about it and it’s not worth fighting over, since he is so astoundingly supportive of my flying in all other respects. If I buy a two-seater, I’ll use the back seat for storage. So it doesn’t matter to me if I buy a single or a two seater.
I also don’t care WHERE the plane is located. I’m almost was looking forward to buying one in the mid-west or the south or east, so I can have a long flight home!
These four criteria made meant that I crossed off a lot of wonderful ultralight-type LSAs, (and all ultralights, which couldn’t meet my speed requirements.) When I looked around, there were three strong contenders: the Sport Flight Talon, (manufactured right at my home airport!), the Rans Stinger, and the Drifter Red Rocket…a clipped wing version of my own beloved Drifter. However, as I flight tested and explored, I realized that my list of four criteria was insufficient. By the time I was done, I had seven criteria.
In my next blog post I’ll share my decision making process…AND show you the ELSA I decided to buy!