Light Sport Aircraft: Little Giant

A rugged LSA for your weekend (or anytime) fun

June 1, 2009

Light sport aircraft are no longer the curiosity they once were. With many manufacturers bringing new models to the U.S. market, you might not take more than a passing glance at an LSA if one were to taxi by at your airport. But if you should happen to see a Tecnam Eaglet on the ramp with futuristic-looking wheelpants and a one-piece windshield, walk over and give it a once-over.

The Tecnam P92 Eaglet is certificated as a Special Light Sport Aircraft (SLSA), but it is no toy. Built in Italy by Costruzioni Aeronautiche Tecnam S.r.l., the airplane is one of four Tecnam models currently sold in the United States. The others are the P92 Echo Super, the P2002 Sierra, and the P2004 Bravo. As this report was being prepared, Tecnam had just announced a new entry, the P2008.

When Tecnam representatives brought a P92 Echo Super to AOPA headquarters in September 2005, our editors immediately noticed the roomy cockpit coupled with a sleek Italian design that seemed, well, downright racy. The Eaglet is the Echo’s sophisticated sister. It brings those same desirable qualities, along with some amenities for the U.S. market: a better view, leather interior, toe brakes, nosewheel steering, and a center console with a cup holder.

There are more than 2,500 Tecnam airplanes operating world wide, and about 114 flying in the United States, according to Tecnam Aircraft, the U.S. distributor. The “92” in P92 designates the year of the design, according to Helen Woods of Chesapeake Sport Pilot (CSP) in Stevensville, Maryland. CSP is a Tecnam dealer, and Woods and CSP’s Colin Russell accompanied me on demonstration flights of the aircraft. CSP also uses Tecnams for flight training; an Echo, Eaglet, and Sierra are on the rental line, as well as a Sky Arrow, another Italian-born LSA made by Iniziative Industriali Italiane (see “Sky Arrow 600 Sport: Eyes in the Sky,” September 2007 AOPA Pilot). Woods says CSP wasn’t initially looking at Tecnam airplanes as trainers, but their handling and flyability made them desirable to the flight school.

The high-wing, tricycle-gear Eaglet, like the Echo, has a vertical tail and stabilator. Under the sporty exterior is a tough frame. This is an aluminum aircraft with composite fairings. The GT Tonini prop is wood with a composite laminate. Inside the front part of the fuselage is a steel roll bar, which the company calls a “cabin survival cell.”

Preflight

Begin your preflight by examining the heart of the Eaglet, a 100-horsepower Rotax 912 ULS. Unfold the gull-wing-style cowling on either side.

Never flown a Rotax before? The four-stroke engine is air and water cooled. There are two reservoirs to check up front—one for coolant, and one for oil. (And while you’re under the cowling, go ahead and check the hoses.) Look in the oil reservoir. Oil capacity is 3.2 quarts. If you don’t see oil on the flat part of the dipstick, you most likely will need to “burp” the engine. This is your real introduction to a Rotax. Make sure the master switch is Off and the key is where you can see it. Then turn the prop six to eight times. When you hear the burp—it will sound like a frat boy on a Saturday night—check the reservoir again. What you’ve done is forced oil through the system so that you can get an accurate reading.

While we’re talking about the Rotax, don’t call it a lawnmower or a chainsaw engine. If you want to draw comparisons, you can think of it as “basically a souped-up [Volkswagen] engine,” says Woods.

Continuing the walk-around, you’ll notice the Eaglet has a single fuel strainer located just behind the left side of the firewall. The pitot tube is mounted on the left wing strut in a position that, depending on your height, could cause you some pain if you walk into it. CSP’s Russell says it should be painted red to draw attention to it; I’d go one better and keep a fluorescent-orange cover on it whenever not flying. The fuel system is gravity fed with an electric fuel pump; a fuel tank is located in each wing. The basic aircraft’s fuel capacity is about 18 gallons usable; N115TE, flown for this article, had the optional larger tanks, which hold about 23 gallons usable.

Continuing around the fuselage to the tail, do a thorough check for unwanted guests such as birds and mice, then move along to the right side of the airplane. You’ll see an external power receptacle that allows you to run the panel off another power source—useful for getting to know the avionics, whether or not you choose to have a glass panel installed.

Ready to get in? Approach the Eaglet from the front, because if you try to climb up on the main strut from the back, you might tip it onto its tailskid. (Some have tried; this has happened.) Are you five feet five or smaller? Slide your right leg under the stick, which is angled in the center to let your knee go under. Then ease into the seat and bring in your other leg. Are you taller than five-five? Hike yourself in bottom first—easier than it sounds—then your head, then your legs.

Once inside, the first thing you may notice is that you’re not cramped. The cabin is 45 inches wide, and it seems even roomier, owing to the wraparound windscreen that gives you a view you won’t fully appreciate until you get airborne. The fit compares favorably to, say, a Cessna 152 cockpit measuring 36 inches across.

Settling yourself into the leather seat, now is a good time to inventory the Eaglet’s design features. For starters, the redesigned windshield affords greater visibility out the front, says CSP’s Russell. Then, you’ve got a central throttle quadrant with a cup holder. (It makes you wonder just what kind of pilot the Tecnam engineers interviewed when they put together a list of add-ons for the U.S. market.) Over on the right are circuit breakers rather than fuses.

N115TE sported an optional Advanced Flight Systems AF-3400 electronic flight information system. The dual 6.5-inch displays can be linked to a Garmin GNS 430 or 530 and can be configured as an EFIS, engine monitoring system, or a combination of both. If you prefer analog instruments, they are arranged in a standard six-pack configuration.

Baggage capacity? Behind the seats is a narrow luggage area that can hold 42 pounds; a soft-sided case or flight bag would fit neatly there, but a rigid suitcase might give you trouble. Above that space is a hat rack, and each door has two chart pockets. Fly without a passenger, of course, and you’ve got an entire seat that you can load with gear. Woods has flown Tecnams from Maryland to Florida and praises their cross-country capability, but, as she notes, “If you’re going camping, you’re shipping your gear ahead.” Useful load is 600 pounds, enough for full fuel and two adults.

The Eaglet burns both auto fuel and 100 LL. It prefers auto fuel and is certified for 5-percent ethanol, says Woods. The Eaglet burns about 3 to 5 gallons per hour, which could conceivably turn your $100 hamburger into a much cheaper meal.

In the air

Another feature for the U.S. market is the split battery/master switch, but you might be thrown by the presence of two throttles—one on the central quadrant, and one on the left side of the panel. That second throttle gives the person in the left seat the option of flying with either hand. Pull the choke, adjust the throttle, and turn the key. The Rotax revs at 5,000 rpm, but the cabin has soundproofing. (The noise level is 63.6 decibels, according to the pilot’s operating handbook.) When you taxi, be careful not to bump the push-to-talk switch on the stick if you’re accustomed to a control wheel.

On takeoff, rotate at 48 knots, or the Eaglet will be ready to go before you are. We were up and at ’em in about 400 feet, climbing out at about 800 to 1,000 feet per minute. Don’t forget to use plenty of right rudder. The Tecnam has lots of rudder authority, and lazy feet won’t cut it. To illustrate this, CSP’s Colin Russell put the airplane into a climb and took his feet off the rudders. The Eaglet’s nose slid sharply to the left.

Demo flights for the Eaglet were conducted in February and March, and as winter was hanging on for dear life while spring fought its way into the Mid-Atlantic, the winds were up on both days. Given the Eaglet’s size, configuration, and weight, I expected it to flap around like a kite. It did not. At 3,000 feet, the airplane was stable bordering on docile, a trait that carried forward throughout the maneuvers we conducted. The Eaglet has no stall horn (you can get one as an option), but you hardly need one. Put it into a power-on stall, and the Eaglet barely shudders, then dips its nose slightly. Same with the power-off stall. CSP’s Woods put the airplane into a series of falling-leaf stalls to show off its stability, saying she doesn’t worry about her students or renter pilots in a Tecnam: “This is grandma’s airplane.” Slow flight, 50 knots, borders on a hover. Operating at 4,200 rpm in cruise, we saw true airspeed of 116 knots at 3,000 feet.

Five miles out from Ridgely Airpark near Bay Bridge Airport, we closed the throttle and proceeded to sit back as the airplane descended at a barely discernible 200 feet per minute. The Eaglet has a 12:1 glide ratio and wing area of 133 square feet.

Enter the pattern at 90 knots and, abeam the numbers, slow to 68 knots and add a notch of flaps. Then pitch for 65 to keep the airspeed in the white arc. Airspeeds are 65 on base with a second notch of flaps, 60 on final, and 55 on short final. The Eaglet has a 15-knot maximum demonstrated crosswind component; again, don’t forget to use the rudder.

When it’s time to park this little giant, you might also appreciate the ease with which you can reposition it if you need to. When you’ve shut down the engine (the Rotax doesn’t windmill, it clunks), climb out. Now push down on the tail just a bit and turn the airplane on its mains. Simple and fun—just like everything else about the Eaglet.

E-mail the author at jill.tallman@aopa.org . Fly along in the Tecnam Eaglet in this online video shot over Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. www.aopa.org/pilot (keyword: Eaglet flight)

SPECSHEET

Tecnam P92 Eaglet

Base price: $119,900
Price as tested: $135,999

Specifications

Powerplant 100-hp Rotax 912 ULS
Recommended TBO 1,500 hr
Propeller GT Tonini, 2-blade compasite fixed pitch
Length 22 ft 7 in
Height 8 ft 1 in
Wingspan 29 ft 6 in
Wing area 133 sq ft
Wing loading 9.9 lb/sq ft
Power loading 13.5 lb/hp
Seats 2
Cabin width 3 ft 9 in
Cabin height 3 ft 6 in
Empty weight 716 lb
Useful load 590 lb
Max takeoff weight 1,320 lb
Max landing weight 1,320 lb
Fuel capacity, std 18.4 gal (17.64 gal usable)
Fuel capacity, w/opt tanks 23.8 gal (22.93 gal usable)
Oil capacity 3.2 qt
Baggage capacity 44 lb, cu ft

Performance

Takeoff distance, ground roll 377 ft
Max demonstrated crosswind component 15 kt
Rate of climb, sea level 1,200 fpm
Max level speed, sea level 118 kt
Cruise speed/endurance w/45-min rsv, std fuel (fuel consumption)  
@ 75% power, best economy
108 kt/5.3 hr
@ 65% power, best economy
102 kt/4.8 hr
@ 55% power, best economy
96 kt/4 hr
Service ceiling 13,110 ft
Landing distance over 50-ft obstacle 853 ft
Landing distance, ground roll 387 ft

Limiting and Recommended Airspeeds

VX (best angle of climb) 68 KIAS
VA (design maneuvering) 93 KIAS
VFE (max flap extended) 68 KIAS
VNO (max structural cruising) 106 KIAS
VNE (never exceed) 134 KIAS
VR (rotation) 48 KIAS
VS1 (stall, clean) 45 KIAS
VSO (stall, in landing configuration) 37 KIAS

For more information, contact Tecnam Aircraft, 770-309-4155, info@tecnamaircraft.com; www.tecnamaircraft.com. All specifications are based on manufacturer’s calculations. All performance figures are based on standard day, standard atmosphere, sea level, gross weight conditions unless otherwise noted.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman | AOPA Technical Editor, AOPA

AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.