Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More fun and little known aircraft

Stumbling through the internet as I often do, I came across this little gem of a crossover aircraft, the Alatus Ultralight Sailplane.

The Alatus Glider

The Alatus is also available as a SLMG (self launching motor glider), the Alatus-M.

The Alatus-M

As a weekend flyer, I know that running costs for any aircraft can be very expensive. Gliders tend to be cheaper, but even with a glider one must set aside cash for hangar charges, insurance, annual inspections and C of A (certificate of airworthiness), not to mention all the little repairs which can add up. The Alatus is an interesting prospect, as it combines some of the benefits of both hang-glider and sailplane.

Lets start with the glider option. The Alatus only weighs between 80-90kg depending on fitment. That's less than a lot of people weigh. Not only does this low weight make the glider easy to move on the ground, it means you don't need a trailer. When stripped down the Alatus fits on the roof of your car. Not only is it easy to transport, it's easy to store... say it will fit (de-rigged) into your average garage.

Bagged ready for transport
  Believe it or not, an even lighter version of the glider is available. Weighing in at less than 80kg, this aircraft falls under the weight limit imposed by EASA, meaning there is no requirement for an annual C of A if you pay a little extra.

So, like a hang-glider, you can store this in your garage, strap it to the roof of your car and drive it to your club. Rigging takes an hour or less, and at the end of the day de-rigging takes about the same. Storage bags are included in the price. If you buy the lighter version, you save hangar rent, annual C of A costs, messing about with trailers, the list goes on and on.

Like a glider, the Alatus has an enclosed cockpit. Full three axis controls and flaps mirror gliding controls, and all gliders are fitted with a combined aerotow/winch hook. Despite the light weight and slightly smaller wingspan (the Alatus has a wingspan of 13.3m, most single place gliders are either 15m or 18m), I suspect that the experience of flying an Alatus would be much closer to a glider than any other ultralight I have seen.

Transport and rigging
I suspect that the motor glider version might draw more attention. Fitted with a 2-stroke Corsair engine, the Alatus-M has the power to launch itself and sustain a climb of around 300ft per minute. Not ballistic but hey, if you are into gliders, you're probably not in a hurry! An electric start means the prop can be deployed and started in the air, should your ambition exceed the lift. The fuel tank only holds around 4-5 litres, but will power an hour of climbing. For most people, that's a lot of soaring!

Flylight Airsports point out that the motor unit can be removed if required, turning the aircraft back into a pure glider. 

To be balanced, there are some issues, and there will certainly be things that the Alatus won't be capable of. With a VNE of around 75kts and a best glide ratio of 27:1, it's not going to win any cross country competitions. Mind you, a stall speed of 18-22kts and flaps which are effective to around 70 degrees (reducing the glide to 8:1) does make for very short field landings if needed.

So, would I buy one? Well, I have to say the prices on offer are pretty reasonable. An Alatus-M with all the listed options including a ballistic parachute system is coming out at just under £26,000, while the pure glider in it's most basic usable form costs  just under £18,600.

Yeah, sure you could buy a second hand Astir for less than £10,000 and the eight grand you save would pay for a lot of hangar rent, maintenance and inspections, but that is missing the point. This aircraft says 'freedom'. Not just freedom in the air, but freedom from legislation and red tape. Freedom to take your glider on holiday with you... Just strap it on the car. Freedom to choose where you want to fly, whenever you want to fly.

I may not be ready to turn my back on more traditional gliders, but I can see the attraction... 

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