I met Frank Derfler (a semi-retired editor and publisher who posts reviews of airports and services in Florida) in the office at the AMD factory, on the opposite side of the window from his nearly new 601XL LSA. Ten years ago, the results of Derfler's heart stress test required every subsequent medical to include injections of radioactive dye. He doesn't like being radioactive, so he switched from his Grumman Cheetah to sport pilot in the 601. "I love it," he says. "It's an all-new airplane, with all-new avionics. That Cheetah was a great flier, but it was a 30-year-old airplane with 20-year-old avionics; it was a constant chase for maintenance. Now I have the perfect alternative, a brand-new airplane; everything is new — eighty-some thousand dollars, with everything in it." Well, not everything. Derfler is thinking about adding to the panel. "I should have put a second screen in for the Dynon [electronic flight information system]. My pilot friends need something to do over there in the right seat. And I should have gotten the remote starter plug." It's plenty big, he says, "except for one friend who has size-15 feet and wears those big Nikes." The best feature of the airplane, aside from the newness? "I love being able to just pull it around with one arm! You don't even need a towbar." Derfler was effusive in his praise for the service he's getting from AMD. "Just a couple squawks, very minor stuff," he says. "But they're missing a real trick, in that they ought to have a big 'Made in the U.S.A.' sign on the tail somewhere. There are not that many LSAs being made in the States, and 'made in America' was a big factor for me." — TK
Near the end of the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In last April, Mathieu Heintz, president of Aircraft Manufacturing & Development Co. (AMD) and son of designer Chris Heintz, revealed a secret: "We have a brand-new LSA. Nobody in the U.S. has seen it yet. It's been in flight test in France for months, and it's ready to be shown here."
It seems that Chris Heintz, designer of the Zenith, Zenair, and Zodiac experimentals and the Part 23-certified AMD Alarus CH2000, has put his hand to a high-wing metal light sport aircraft (LSA). More than 3,000 of Chris' airplanes are flying, built from kits out of Mexico, Missouri (and earlier from the Czech Republic, when finished airplanes also were offered). AMD produces the Part 23-certified Alarus CH2000 and Zodiac S-LSA CH601 XLi, a ready-to-fly version of the popular kit. Heintz started with the microlight Aero Andina MXP, based on the Zenair CH701, and remade it his own: Among hundreds of changes, the fuselage is beefier, for LSA use and power, and the wing is a new design, to enhance the slow-speed and short-field performance.
The AMD facility in rural Eastman, Georgia, is a great place for a project like this: not too far from Atlanta, but out of the way. There's 6,000 feet of smooth, wide runway and hardly any traffic. Airspace is workable, and there are a hundred land-able fields in all directions.
The first Patriot is wearing "Experimental" on its sides, the mark of its being a prototype. Even as a prototype, it looked like a fully finished product. Fit and finish was much better than on most prototypes, and it isn't bad in comparison to most of the Part 23 rental fleet. It's roomy for an LSA, and comfortable, enhanced by its ability to be taxied with both doors open. (John Degonia, AMD's director of sales and a Part 23 production test pilot, said the company is currently testing to see if the doors can be left open in flight.) It's pleasant and spare, with more than enough instrumentation for day-VFR flight, and plenty of room for more in the panel.
The specifications are still subject to minor changes, but the commercial edition is likely to be very, very close to this one: 32-foot, 10-inch wingspan with a very slight dihedral, on a twin-strut, twin-spar design, featuring flaperons for low-speed handling and 132.5 square feet of wing. The nose-to-strobe length is 20 feet 8 inches, and the cabin is fully 4 feet wide. Each of two fuel tanks holds 12 gallons of 100LL, and the whole thing sits on tricycle gear.
New, for Chris Heintz-design fans, is the fact that there is no flying tail on this machine. The conventional rudder has 25 degrees of deflection to each side, affording what I'm told is plenty of authority, even at low speeds. The horizontal stabilizer's and elevator's 9-foot-9-inch-wide surfaces incorporate a single trim tab (on the pilot's side). Controls are by dual stick, with toe brakes for both pilots.
AMD works with customers to build the panels they want. Degonia runs a marvelous piece of panel-design software that depicts not only any equipment a customer desires, but also logs its behind-panel requirements, weights, and amperage requirements. The rest of the interior is light but tasteful, with luxurious touches on the seats, door panels, and luggage compartment. Although this machine did not have them, expect an option of the AmSafe shoulder-harness air bags in the future. (Their use in certified aircraft was pioneered on the CH2000, and they are also available on the CH601 XLi.)
Several unique features were immediately apparent, among the most notable of which were the wing and stabilizer tips, with curled edges. Mathieu Heintz explained, "They tend to cancel the vortices at the tips." When asked how much drag they induced, he answered that the curly tips may add less drag than the vortices they eliminate. He hesitated to say that's what happened in all cases, at all speeds, but he was convinced that the feature was an overall performance plus.
Speaking of performance, there is a Continental O-200 engine up front, bolted to a Sensenich prop. The powerplant is traditional and bulletproof, and it's what Heintz says so many training facilities want. (Many don't wish to have to send their mechanics to specialized-engine training, or to have their students deal with engine-specific requirements during their primary training.)
Speeds are LSA, with a 143-knot V NE, a cruise speed of 118 knots, and stall speeds of 40 and 35 knots, clean and dirty. Climb at maximum gross weight is listed as 1,100 fpm, and max range is 562 nm. The preliminary pilot's operating handbook's takeoff ground roll is 148 feet and landing in 262 feet looked realistic, as Degonia demonstrated several of each, albeit solo.
The name "Patriot" was chosen to reflect the machine's "Made in the U.S.A." heritage at the 28,000-square-foot AMD facility where the Alarus CH2000 and the Zodiac CH601 XLi are already produced.
The airplane was expected at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in July with a base price in the $90,000-to-$95,000 range and a full list of options.
Tim Kern, of Eagle Lake, Florida, is a certified aviation manager.