Flight Test

Colt in the running…

While it might look unremarkable, the Colt from Texas Aircraft is a refined Light Sport type with decent handling… and an electric motor option in its future too

Once upon a time, when international travel was easy, and hardly anyone had heard of Covid-19, Joe Fournier, Ed Hicks and I set off from a rental villa in Winter Haven Florida to drive to Winter Haven Airport (KGIF) to fly north to Gainesville, where we were to meet Texas Aircraft Colt owner Ricky Youshack. Ricky and his dad were (and still are) the owners of Texas Colt serial number two, and we’d been pointed in their direction by the factory in Hondo Texas where CEO Matheus Grande, Designer Caio Jordão and Head of unfeasibly long names, Carlos Augusto Amarel Paes de Farro had set up Texas Aircraft specifically to take advantage of the US LSA market. The model first flew in 2018, was introduced at Oshkosh in 2019 and was deemed to have met the LSA ASTM standards later that year. 

Unusually we had time in hand and decided to stop for breakfast at Egg City, a diner on our route to Winter Haven and Joe’s C182. Here we talked through our plans while consuming assorted egg-based dishes, with boiled coffee in mugs sporting overly thick rims, and chemical orange juice (despite being just 16 miles from Florida’s biggest fresh orange juice plant!). Despite a pincer movement from Joe and our waitress, we didn’t try the grits, which in my experience always taste even worse than they sound.

Very conventional, but well proportioned and nicely finished

Seated at our booth, we pulled our phones out, googled the Colt, and talked through what we thought it would be like, where it might sit on the market, and whether or not it was better looking than the similarly configured Tecnam P2008. We found out that the aircraft was designed by company co-founder Brazilian Caio Jordão, who, to be honest, I had never heard of. It seems that Jordão is a pretty well known in Brazilian light aircraft design circles, where he created, among others, the Conquest 180. While the Texas Colt is said to be a clean sheet design, a quick look at both aeroplanes shows a very strong family resemblance. I read somewhere that it is informed by the Conquest 180, whatever that means.

Sitting around our formica table at Egg City we also learned that the Conquest had started life as a composite aeroplane, but the Colt was all metal. Like both Mooney (and the single-seat SPA Panther we flew in summer 2014) it has a steel passenger cell, built from 4130 chromoly steel. The skins are aluminium and everything is put together using solid rivets rather than the far more common pop rivets, sorry, I mean structural pulled rivets that are pretty common in the LSA world.

I know this sounds a bit harsh, but looking at the pictures on our phones, the Colt looked, well, unremarkable, and I was beginning to worry that it might fall into one of the two already overpopulated LSA categories – competent but oh so dull, or not at all dull but only because the control forces are ridiculously light, and the handling less harmonised that feral cats on a date night. Time would tell. One thing we were pretty sure of was the performance. Unsurprisingly, the relatively narrow parameters of the LSA specs generate quite a lot of two seat side by side aircraft that are powered by a 100hp Rotax, injected or otherwise. These aircraft almost inevitably deliver a cruise of about 100kt for a fuel burn of about 18 litres per hour (lph).

We settle up, leave the tip and head for the airport. It’s a straightforward flight, Gainesville is about 100nm northish of Winter Haven and after landing we head for the FBO where we’d planned to meet Ricky. Gainesville is home to the University of Florida and the university also owns and runs one of the FBOs, University Air. The walk from the ramp to the FBO takes you through a garden with a couple of model alligators in honour of the Florida Gators, the local football team. That was to be a bit of a theme.

Ricky arrives wearing a Florida jumper that’s in the Gator’s colours. He takes us to his T hangar and pulls open the doors to reveal a gleaming Texas Colt painted in, you’ve guessed, Gator’s team colours. Ricky’s dad holds a sport pilot’s licence and Ricky has a private licence, buying an LSA meant they could both use it. A Rotax-powered LSA also means that it’s relatively cost effective for Ricky to build hours and experience as he works towards his commercial and IFR tickets. It also makes visiting family in Fort Myers a lot easier!

Like a modern 152

We pull the aircraft out into the bright sun where its bright orange, blue and white gator scheme could shine. First impressions are a little strange. It looks for all the world like a modern C152, much of the empennage is very Cessna, but at the same time it kind of felt a bit like it was a 90% scale aeroplane in a way that I don’t find with all LSAs. Given that this was only serial number two the fit, finish and overall build quality were excellent, a really impressive achievement that many, including some mainstream manufacturers don’t always get right (take a look down a line of driven rivets on one of the early re-start Cessnas from 1996/97 to see what I mean).

Even if you are super conservative on fuel, you can fill up and fly for five hours and still have almost 90 minutes in reserve
Even if you are super conservative on fuel, you can fill up and fly for five hours and still have almost 90 minutes in reserve

There are two light and fairly lightweight doors that nonetheless feel pretty solid. They open through pretty much 180° and will sit alongside the cowl. The downside of having large, lightweight fully opening doors is that parked on the rampo they’re pretty effective sails, and require care and awareness. This is by no means a unique Colt gotcha, but it is worth mentioning.

The doors open up what I can only describe as a spacious and luxurious interior, it would be impressive in any aeroplane, let alone one that had to be built and designed with the tight weight budget of an LSA. The wing strut attaches to the fuselage at the rear of the door, so with the wide open door access to the cabin is relatively easy. It may be a high-wing, but the whole aeroplane sits lower than conventional high wings, so for many a certain amount of ducking is required, along with a bit of bending over to get your head into the cockpit.

Once inside there’s enough headroom for your tall gran to wear her Bose headsets on top of her perm, and a very generous 106cm/42in cabin width for you to settle into. The first thing of note is that there’s barely a piece of bare metal to be seen. It’s common for LSAs to save weight by doing away with interiors – the Vashon Ranger and now sunsetted ‘we’re going to pretend it never happened’ Cessna SkyCatcher are great examples of the painted bare
metal look.

The leather clad seats are comfortable and, joy of joys (I’m easily pleased), adjustable fore and aft by sliding them along a sturdy looking and smooth running rail. I know that’s not a big deal in the heavier certified world, but it is by no means an automatic thing at the lighter end of the spectrum where you frequently find adjustable rudder pedals (contortion often required to move them) or a seat adjustment that relies on somewhat delicate appearing mechanisms.

The floor behind the seats is the large luggage area with a max capacity of 20kg, but it’s what’s in front of the seat that’s generally of more interest to pilots. The company has done a great job in producing a clean and uncluttered panel dominated by a Dynon Skyview HDX fit with transponder, autopilot and radio. There are three backup steam instruments on the right, although I’m told that they’re unnecessary and will not be a feature of future models.

Dynon Skyview HDX

The aircraft registration is writ large above the Dynon screen, but eclipsed by the unreadably HUGE placard advising you that the throttle like lever conveniently placed between the seats is in fact the THROTTLE. Above that is the Andair fuel tap which allows you to switch between left and right wing tanks (there’s no ‘Both’ option – boo), which contain a total of 117 usable litres of fuel between them. That’s about six hours’ worth of fuel with half an hour’s reserve, then there’s the handle for the ballistic parachute.

Handling is nicely weighted, avoiding the lightness, particularly in pitch, that many LSAs suffer from

The Colt has a useful load of about 220kg, so there’s some balancing to be done with fuel quantities and everything else. Topping the tanks for a six hour flight will take about 85kg, leaving 135kg to be shared between the two seats and any luggage, but how many of us fly six hour GA legs regularly? The Colt is a super comfortable LSA, but six hours…

Ricky and I run through the plan, and it’s immediately obvious by the way that he’s using both ForeFlight and the Dynon Skyview HDX that he’s very comfortable with the technology, as you’d expect for an average usage of about 20 hours a month. With the engine running it’s time to pick up the ATIS, and while the frequencies are not difficult to find, the Dynon radio has three buttons, ATIS, GND and TWR, which thanks to the GPS know exactly where you are, so pressing one of these tunes the right frequency for you. Heading for the runway the castering nosewheel makes easy work of directional control and we’re soon ready to set take-off flap, operated by a spring loaded switch without any detents, so 10° or so equals maybe four seconds.

I add power and weave a bit as we gather speed and the rudder becomes effective before we leave the ground and settle into a fairly nose high 800fpm climb. In some LSAs right about now I’d be doing my best to avoid PIO thanks to the (over) sensitive controls in pitch, but the little Colt’s solid with nicely weighted controls that make it feel like a much larger aeroplane. Ricky tells me that he often flies high to take advantage of better tailwinds, his record so far being a groundspeed of 174kt, but today we go no higher than 4,000ft to try to get out of the low level turbulence. Here the speed settles, as predicted, at just over 100kt. It’s possible to go faster, but 4,800-5,000rpm seems like a comfortable relaxed cruise setting for the Rotax. The handling is really nice, harmonised and not featherlight like some, the aeroplane trims easily (both yokes have electric trim switches), and there’s no big pitch changes with the flaps either. Slow flight is a pleasure, stalls predictably (and happily) boring.

After playing around we head back to Gainesville, Ricky clearly knows the area, but the Dynon HDX did a cracking job of providing situational awareness and all of the engine and aux system information I needed. The aeroplane’s not super slippery, but the fixed gear and struts don’t seem to provide as much drag as you might think. Once slowed, with flaps out the landing was smooth and predictable.

Earlier I wrote that the Texas Colt’s looks were unremarkable. I’m holding on to that view for now, but after spending some time in its company I’m slowly shifting more towards ‘refined and functional’. The inside is certainly way better than most factory-built aircraft, and the handling feels pleasantly weighted. Performance is standard LSA, and carrying capacity average, with some care needed not to overload if the occupants have spent too much money buying (and eating) yards of doughnuts from Walmart. It’s basically a very comfortable go-places LSA that’s cheap to run. Ricky estimates that he spends about $15, about £11, an hour on fuel, which must make going through college with your own aeroplane at your local airport a more affordable experience. Talking about price, what’s basically the personal use version of the Colt comes in around $167,000 (a more basic version is available for about $10,000 less). That’s a bit higher than the average price for a new LSA, but the finish and feel are nicer than most. Will the Texas Colt finally be the two-seater that cracks the ab initio training market? I hope so, but I’m not so sure. There’s nothing wrong with it; the undercarriage has been built to take the student pilot workload and the cockpit is a nice place to be, but the C172 and PA28 have put down some pretty tenacious roots, and I’m not sure they’re ready to be pulled up just yet.

More info:  www.texasaircraft.com

A Texas eColt with British batteries, built in Brazil…

Texas Aircraft clearly isn’t hanging around, and alongside the public introduction of its Rotax-powered Colt at Oshkosh, the company displayed a potential future electric powertrain. The electric motor on show came from Siemens (which sold its electric engine business to Rolls-Royce), but the project has clearly moved on, and the aeroplane will now be powered by the Brazilian WEG motor. Power will come from the UK’s OXIS Energy courtesy of its lithium-sulphur (Li-S) technology 

In a press release Texas Aircraft said, “The eColt will fill a growing demand for ecologically friendly flight training airplanes, as well as regional transportation in Brazil and throughout the world. Initially, OXIS projects the eColt’s flight time will be in excess of two hours with an approximate range of 200 nm. The use of sulfur as a non-conductive battery material provides enhanced safety and is superior to current lithium-Ion technology. Its 90kWh battery system, which is 40% lighter than current Li-Ion technology will be powered by its High Power cell at 400Wh/kg.”

TECH SPECS

Performance

Max speed (Vne) 134kias
Max cruise 118kt
Stall speed (clean/full flap) 44kt/38kt
Rate of climb 800fpm
Endurance 6+ hours!
Fuel 18 litres/hour

Weights & loadings

Seats 2
Max take-off 598kg
Empty 3861kg
Payload 212kg
Payload with 3hr fuel 168kg
Baggage 20kg
Fuel capacity 31usg/118l

Dimensions

Wingspan 9.8m
Length 7.1m
Height 7.7m

Spec

Airframe Aluminium
Engine Rotax 912ULS
Max power 100hp
Propeller Sterna composite three blade, fixed pitch
Avionics Dynon Skyview HDX
Undercarriage Fixed, tricycle

Manufacturer

Texas Aircraft 508 Vandenberg Rd, Hangar #5 Hondo, Texas. USA
Price $167,000
More info www.texasaircraft.com

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