Owning a microlight

Owning a microlight

HBMC prop

Pre-flight checklist item: Remove telltale signs of infatuation from propeller spinner

Buying a microlight is easier than buying a car, although there are not so many choices of make and model. There are some pitfalls, however, and some important details to be considered. Such as, it can’t be parked outside your house while you look for somewhere to store it. And having decided on a particular model, you can’t just borrow it for a day and take it home to show Mum. You have to be a qualified pilot (and rated in the plane), or get someone who is to bring it home for you. For a rare model based a long way off, that can be a mission.

Like many bigger ticket items, aircraft are easy to buy and hard to sell. So you need to do some careful research before parting with any cash. You’ll find some aircraft for sale on TradeMe, and there’s always something coming up in the Australian-based Aviation Trader or our local Aviation News.

There is an order of events that you should follow to avoid frustrations. First ask yourself: do I want to potter round the local paddocks, or venture to remote and wild places, or do long-distance flights between tidy airports? A Bantam is ideal for paddock missions (and can be bought from $5000), but a Tecnam 2008 won’t take kindly to back-country airstrips. It’s great for touring, though.

If you are new to aviation, talk to the microlight club captain. He will steer you in the right direction to find all the people to provide the information you will need to make a wise choice. The aero club bar at Bridge Pa is often a good starting point; there is a wealth of knowledge in the club and the bar is a good place to find it. You will need to spend quite some time learning about makes, models, variants – and engines to avoid (there are some).

The price you may pay is as long as a very long piece of string. Good aircraft have been bought for as little as $15,000. But these are very basic machines. For a more capable aeroplane, be prepared to spend more than $50,000. There is also the kitset option: there are many home-builds at Bridge Pa, and a new aircraft for under $80,000 is an attractive option for the do-it-yourselfer. But please think very seriously about this, because building your own aeroplane is a major project requiring many skills.

For new aircraft, there are many choices, from $140,000 to more than $200,000.

Having got to this point and settled on a budget, go no further before finding out about hangarage for your new toy. The cheap option is to tie your plane down on the grass, but this is not advised. If the sun doesn’t ruin it, a hefty north-westerly might. Somewhere to safely hangar your plane should be a priority (and when buying a used aircraft, look for one that has always been kept in a hangar).

At Hastings, there are some hangar-sharing opportunities with private owners, but problems can arise when sharing. More often than not, somebody must move somebody’s else’s aeroplane to access their own, with the ever-present risk of damage. Most new owners prefer their own hangars and there are some good local companies specialising in building them. Make that part of your enquiries through the microlight club. Many members have “been there, done that”, so tap into their experience.

The aero club is very microlight-friendly and sometimes has hangar space available at affordable rates. If you decide to build at Hastings, it will be on club ground so the club will be involved in the planning. There is an annual charge for ground rent, but it’s reasonable.

Before you grab the keys and head for home, there is the small matter of insurance. A $100,000 aircraft will cost around $3000 a year to insure. There’s a limited choice of underwriters, and the most popular appears to be Aviation Co-operating, based in Wellington. Plus, there’s UK-based Traffords.

A major advantage of owning a microlight rather than a GA aircraft is operating cost, and in particular the cost of maintenance. Owners have a remarkable degree of freedom to maintain their own aircraft (although there are strict rules about maintaining accurate log books) and how much you do yourself will depend on your mechanical skills. At Hastings, we’re lucky to have Cliff Johnston and his well-equipped hangar and workshops. Cliff’s a long term member and ex presidet, and our best source of support for maintenance, annual inspections and installation of gadgets. See his ad in the Microlighters’ Marketplace section. Colin Alexander of Solo Wings in Tauranga is New Zealand’s top expert on Rotax engines. He deals with all sorts of microlights, is active in RAANZ and is an oracle on all things microlight. Email him at solowings@xtra.co.nz

So now you have an aeroplane hangared at Bridge Pa and the sky is the limit. Enjoy it. And keep in touch with the microlight club. It will give you many more opportunities to enjoy your new activity and make new friends who share your interest.

 

ROTAX ALERT SERVICE BULLETIN (MAY 2015)

In general, it is observed that more and more lithium-ion batteries are used instead of lead-acid batteries in aircraft.  Batteries based on Lithium technology must be operated within a tightly specified range (no over-voltage, high temperatures, short circuits…).  Additionally there are important specifications and safety notices of each battery manufacturer that must be observed.

All ROTAX aircraft engines can only be operated with Lithium-ion batteries if a suitable battery management system qualified by the aircraft manufacturer is used in the aircraft.

This is necessary to protect the electrical system of the aircraft against any occurring current and/or voltage anomalies from the engine side.

Lighting the fire’ by Trevor Claughton

Abridged version 18.10.15

One of the problems with microlight aircraft is finding items that perform well and are light in weight. This is especially true when you come to items that usually have a significant weight component and whose location within the airframe can be challenging in terms of both space and C of G influence. Batteries are now an essential part of a modern day microlight. They need to be light, reliable, able to crank the engine well, even on cold mornings, able to be charged with normal electrical systems and preferably sealed so that they can be fitted virtually anywhere in or on the airframe.

This challenge was something that I experienced when working on my aircraft. It has a modified Subaru EA81 engine fitted with high compression heads and electronic ignition.

When I bought the aircraft it came with a relatively large car type lead acid battery fixed to the firewall which I removed. Heavy cross-section leads were run to behind the seats and the highest power glass-mat technology sealed battery fitted. Sure it would start the motor, but only just, also the concern that perhaps it wasn’t getting the optimum charge as these types of battery evidently require a slightly higher input to charge them.

After a number of cold mornings when the weather was ideal for flying, the battery would hardly turn the engine over, definitely not fast enough to start it. An internet search revealed two key battery types as replacements, both lithium based with one using the lithium-ion combination and the other lithium-iron, both delivered high power cranking capability with low weight and the promise of making sure it lit the fire.

The lithium-ion type is good and powerful, but rather unstable. The lithium-iron side of things is relatively new and although powerful, perhaps not as grunty as the lithium-ion, it is stable and can be used in the average day-to-day charging system without any problems. Big bonuses are its small size, light weight, being readily available in a ‘standard sealed case’ form making it easy to install, and the fact that its performance does not degrade on cold mornings.

The net effect was that after fitting a Shorai Lithium-Iron battery all of my problems disappeared, with cold light frost mornings being a breeze. It has always spun the engine fast enough to start it on the first crank, perfect. With the removal of the old battery and the fitting of the sealed Shorai Lithium-iron the net effect was a saving of 7kgs even with the heavier cables being factored in, and the C of G is now spot on, a double bonus.

It isn’t a cheap solution by any means but it is a good one and a perfect solution to my problems that has been operating very well for some 2 1/2 years. If you have the same challenges as I had with weight, C of G and high cranking power requirements, take a look at lithium-iron batteries, they may just answer all of your problems.

 

LMG – build by John and Lyn White

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Built from a quick build kit meaning the fuselage was 50% complete, and the rest was built from a pile of bits.
It has a 3.5 litre UL motor with electronic fuel injection.   It took 810 hours to complete, and 16 months from start to test flight.  Since test flight in Dec 2014 have flown 50 hours with no problems.
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