Flight Test

A Star in the sky

Minimum cost, maximum fun… the SportStar from Evektor is one of the first approved 600kg Light Sport Microlights

Aviation is no stranger to compromise. You can go faster, but you’ll have to burn more. You can have a super STOL machine, but chances are your cruise will be a bit on the (very) slow side. You can have fully certified de-icing and a comfortable fast cruise, but you’d better not operate from short, soft grass strips. Then there’s the widespread perma compromise of weight, where you get to juggle fuel quantity, luggage, passenger mass and your own all-day-breakfast quota with range, endurance, regulation and the laws of physics (which always trump all others).

While the laws of physics don’t change, aviation regulation does, and the new 600kg microlight category has the potential to minimise cost and hassle, while maximising fun. There are still some compromises, so if your type of aviation is anything other than day VFR or needs more than two seats, it might not work for you. But I’m increasingly attracted by the low direct operating costs and light regulatory burden that the 600kg category promises, so jumped at the chance to fly the SportStar SLM 600, one of the first 600kg microlights to be approved in the UK.

As much as I love aeroplanes and General Aviation, my joy comes from the act of flying and the magic carpet experience it provides, rather than a deep knowledge of how any particular model of aeroplane evolves. That’s why, to my eyes at least, the SportStar SLM looks pretty much like an Evektor EV97 that’s been connected to a high pressure air line and inflated a bit. Roger Cornwell, the UK agent, politely pointed out that while it was certainly shaped by the EV97’s DNA, lots had been changed, and plenty of it was new and different from its often bare-metal smaller sibling.

Internally the wings (which retain the 8.1m span of the EV97 Eurostar) have been re-designed to include a 60 litre fuel tank per side. In addition to the bladder-busting endurance that gives, it also creates space behind the seats for a generous baggage area (the weight limit for that is 25kg, so maybe don’t carry around all of the usual crap stuff that aircraft tend to accumulate). I’m sure that Roger will happily run through all of the other detail changes, but if you think sturdier, strengthened and with a LARGE and optically lovely canopy, you won’t be far wrong.

Engine wise, future SportStar owners can choose between the Rotax 912ULS, the turbo charged 914UL or the fuel injected 912iS as fitted to this aeroplane. Although the injected engine will raise the price by a few thousand or so over the carb’ed engine, the injection system does a great job of delivering smooth power with frugal fuel flow.

Getting in is pretty easy, one big step onto the wing (future builds will have a fuselage mounted step) and then step into the aircraft. Unlike quite a few lighter aircraft, the SportStar has plenty of places for you to put your hand and support your weight without fear of damage. I guess it would be technically easier to sit on the seat first, but we were in a muddy field and the aeroplane was soon to be delivered to its new owner… Stepping from the wing straight onto the floor was not difficult.

Selection of switches

Inside you’re presented with a modern carbon fibre panel fitted with a Dynon Skyview, an iPad running SkyDemon and the usual selection of electrical switches, including those that drive the two-lane fuel injection system. Presumably to satisfy a regulation somewhere, there’s a traditional instrument cluster providing you with airspeed, altitude, a compass and a slip ball – think of it as the aeroplane’s very own ‘museum quarter’. Fuel tanks are switched via a centrally mounted Andair piece of anodised beauty, and both sets of (adjustable) rudder pedals have toe brakes fitted. Between the seats there’s a handbrake-style lever that works the three stage, three-quarter span split flaps. This is my least favourite feature of the aircraft, I found it difficult to use, and think electrically driven flaps would be better while also freeing up a bit of space between the seats. The things you will use most, i.e. the sticks and the throttle, both feel great. The elevator and aileron trim control are operated by stick-mounted buttons and the throttle plunger (meatier than my Cessna) has a good friction lock to take care of that Rotax spring (if you haven’t flown behind a Rotax, the throttle is sprung so that any cable failure results in full power being delivered).

We started the engine, ran through the checks (mainly making sure that both fuel injection lines are working) and headed for the runway. Although firm, the surface was slippery and the Cessna had embarrassed itself by leaving a selection of skid marks where a wheel had locked when manoeuvring to park. The SportStar and its steerable nose wheel left no such trace and was joyfully easy to taxi.

Empty the aeroplane weighs 320kg, so with Roger, me and a good couple of hours’ worth of fuel on board we were maybe 40kg under MAUW. For my first take off in type, runway permitting, I tend to advance the throttle pretty slowly.

With the first stage of flap set I rotated a bit later than was strictly necessary (close to 50kt) but we used just under half of the 650m available.

Rate of climb was pushing 1,000fpm, and as you would expect the visibility was superb. In search of smoother air we climbed on top of a scattered cloud base (somewhere north of 5,000ft for the most part) to get a feel for the aeroplane.

The stick mounted elevator trim had a relatively fast motor – when flying something similar a few years ago I had managed to confuse the down trim with the PTT, and while talking to Lyneham (that’s a clue to how long ago it was) found myself wondering why the aeroplane was so nose heavy. Making the same mistake in the SportStar would get your attention pretty quickly. The aileron trim either had a slower motor or a less effective trim tab, either way, with two on board but with a bit of fuel imbalance, it was hardly needed. Personally I’d be tempted to replace the four individual buttons with a four-way hat-style trim switch.

Control forces are nicely weighted, and once trimmed the aeroplane’s really easy to fly with just a couple of fingers and the lightest of touches on the rudder (purists look away now) – in fact, you won’t embarrass yourself if you forget the rudder completely when flying normally. Playing in the sky it’s quickly obvious that the SportStar feels like a pretty solid yet sporty machine. There’s no oil-canning of the skins, no noisy drafts, no weird vibrations, just good solid safe, yet entertaining handling… a real joy.

Economics of flying

I recently paid a penny less than £2 for a litre of avgas, and with the C182 burning 42 lph when loafing along at economy power settings, that’s a chunky amount of change, particularly if you’re up on your own for a bit of random flight-seeing. I have a theory about the economics of flying and direct operating costs (DOCs). Essentially the best type of aircraft to own is the one that allows you to go flying more or less when you feel like it without worrying unduly about the DOCs. That way you fly more often, stay more current and are likely to end up having much more fun. The opposite experience might be something like owning a fast complex twin that costs over £1,000 to fill up, and north of £250 an hour just in fuel. The result is you fly fewer hours, get less current, maybe suffer from reduced mental capacity, and as a result each flight has the potential to be far more stressful and undoubtedly less safe.

Working out the fuel burn and resulting cruise speeds, and looking at those for the types of flights that you most often take is interesting. I pulled the power back on the SportSstar and trimmed for about 80kt, this would be a local flight-seeing or loitering mode. Think ‘nowhere to be with lots of things to see’. At this speed the aircraft is quiet inside and out (the engine is turning at about 4,400rpm) and the handling’s still rock solid and pleasant. The engine’s only burning 12 lph, so even if you only half filled the tanks you’d still have four hours endurance with an hour to spare.

If you need to get somewhere in a hurry then the SportStar will canter along at about 100kt. As you can imagine this is going to take quite a bit more power and the resulting higher rpm (it’s a three blade fixed-pitch Duc prop) does generate more noise (although not uncomfortably so). It also burns more fuel, and although I only saw 16 lph on the screen, I think I’d want to plan for 18 lph just to give me that warm comfortable feeling of plenty of fuel in the tank (options are always good and fuel almost always buys you options). Even taking the high fuel burn you’ve still got about six hours plus reserves if you top off the tanks.

It would be a shame to waste all of the altitude we had without taking a look at the stalling characteristics, so slowing down we start clean and work our way through the stages of flap. I’ve been trying to think of a different way to say it’s all fairly benign with plenty of warning but I can’t, so all of your plain vanilla stalls result in something entirely predictable and hassle free, unless of course you happen to be close to the ground, which will result in an awful day whatever you’re flying. With full flap the POH says it’ll stall at 39kt and clean at 43kt and that, within a knot, correlates to what we saw.

Altitudes of 5,000ft+ are probably not the SportStar’s natural habitat, at least not in the UK where you don’t have to go too far before banging your head into a bit of controlled airspace. With time and fuel to spare I pointed us in the direction of some familiar scenery and began a descent to something nearer 1,000ft agl. The aeroplane’s Vne is 146kt, so there’s a very comfortable margin between high speed cruise and bits bending or worse. The SportStar isn’t the draggiest airframe arounds, but nor is it slippery enough for speed control in a cruise descent to be a problem. Down at about 1,500ft, set the low loitering power and enjoy some great views of the Wiltshire countryside, all the while whispering along with, I suspect, barely a noticeable engine note for those on the ground to listen to or complain about.

Split flaps add drag, but not a great deal of lift. 1G stall speed is only 4kt slower with full flap rather than clean

Just like my slow application of power for a first take-off in type, I usually set up for a longish final for the first landing. Speed control was easy, there was a little crosswind, but the SportStar made easy work of that too. Before long I was bringing the speed back over the mythical hedge to about 55kt for an uneventful landing and taxi to parking and coffee.

Little belter…

What a bloody great aircraft, what a great set of compromises. STOL enough to get in and out of pretty much every strip in the UK, fast enough to fit in pretty much any airport circuit. Comfortable enough for long flights, involving enough to ensure that no flight becomes dull and low enough DOCs to be able to fly more or less whenever you want.

I would make a couple of changes (and the regs allow Roger to do this). As I mentioned earlier, I’d have a hat-style trimmer on the sticks. I’d have slightly beefier electrical switches and for those long touring flights and I’d have a basic autopilot, but that’s about it.

Equipped as flown the SportStar will cost in the region of £125,000, and that’s a lot of anyone’s money, but compare it with the rising cost of used certified aeroplanes, the fuel consumption you get from a traditional aero engine and the fact that this would make an ideal group aircraft shared between three or four and it makes a lot of sense.

The 600kg category took a bit longer to become reality than most had hoped for, but now that new types are beginning to arrive, I think we have a very exciting future on our hands. Or should that be wings?

Take ownership…

If you’re a microlight pilot then none of this will come as a surprise, but if you’ve spent much of your flying career in certified or even LAA permit aeroplanes there are some differences that might surprise you.

The first of these is not just that a lot of the maintenance can be completed by the owner, but that inspection of those works doesn’t usually have to be done by a BMAA inspector, but can be completed by a responsible person such as another licensed pilot.

To those of us with certified aircraft experience this can come as a bit of a shock. In the certified (and LAA Permit) world there is a prescribed list of maintenance that an owner can undertake. In the BMAA world, all maintenance is considered to be permissible ‘pilot maintenance’ unless specifically called out in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM), which will clearly state where specific qualifications or equipment are required. There may be no problem with you, as the owner, carrying out a 100 hour inspection, but it’s (understandably) not going to be within the scope of owner maintenance for you to service or replace the explosive charge in a BRS device! For quite a few tasks the owner can sign the maintenance log, but if any activity had disturbed a major structure a duplicate inspection by a competent person is necessary (see above).

There are times when s BMAA inspector or aircraft manufacturer will have to be involved. Although a microlight will have a non-expiring Permit to Fly certificate, to be valid it has to have an annual certificate of validity which is issued by the BMAA following an application by the owner, an inspection by a BMAA inspector and a check flight. Any minor modifications also have to be signed off by both the owner and a BMAA inspector.

There’s no obligation to actually do the work yourself, and many people pay individuals or companies to work on their aircraft, but even then it’s very much BMAA ethos that the owner is ultimately responsible.

Tech Spec

Performance

Max speed (Vne) 146kt
Cruise speed 80-100kt
Stall speed (full flap) 39kt
Take-off distance 160m
Rate of climb 1,000fpm+

Weights & loadings

Seats 2
Max take-off 600kg
Empty 320kg
Payload 280kg

Dimensions

Wingspan 26ft 6in
Wing area 105.92sq ft
Length 19ft 6in

Spec

Airframe Aluminium
Engine Rotax 912iS
Max power 100hp

Manufacturer

Evektor www.evektor.cz/en

Contact

Roger Cornwell Ascent Industries 07739 670585 www.sportstaraviation.co.uk

Price

Aircraft approx £125,000
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