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A turboprop ultralight?

JMB’s 200-knot solution

Yep, you read that right. They’re now building and selling single-engine turboprops as ultralights. Not in the United States, but in Europe.
Photography by David Tulis

MB Aircraft of Chocen, in the Czech Republic, is in the middle of flight testing its VL3 Turbine, a sleek two-seater with a French-built TP-R90, 130-horsepower Turbotech turboprop engine. JMB says the VL3 Turbine is quiet, vibration-free, has a high-speed cruise of 200 knots, and, according to Turbotech, burns just five gallons per hour in an economy cruise power setting, has a 3,000-hour time between overhauls, is FADEC-equipped, and has a single power lever. Oh, and the engine has sustainability and eco-cred: It can burn 100LL avgas, UL91 avgas, Jet A1, diesel fuel, biofuels, and—some day—hydrogen.

JMB already has three reciprocating engine versions of the VL3 design. They’re powered by Rotax engines and have airframes virtually identical to the VL3 Turbine. The VL3 designs—even the Turbine version—are classified as ultralights in Europe (a European ultralight is nothing like the ultralights defined in our FAR Part 103). Same thing with many other light general aviation airplanes over there—even though they have attributes that disqualify them for certification as LSAs or ultralights in the United States. One is a maximum takeoff weight of 600 kilograms. That’s 1,323 pounds. Sound familiar? That’s because a 1,320-pound maximum takeoff weight limit is one of several requirements to qualify for LSA certification by the FAA.

When it comes to aircraft certification, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)—the aviation certification body for the 27 European Union member nations—prioritizes larger, conventional aircraft.

Until 2018, EASA rules said that to be an ultralight, maximum takeoff weight had to be 450 kilograms/992 pounds or less. Member nations’ pilots and manufacturers griped mightily. Under the 992-pound rule you couldn’t fly with two people and full fuel—a big downer.

So, EASA decided that individual member nations, and even their flying clubs, could opt out and come up with rules of their own for light airplanes. With only two stipulations: Their maximum takeoff weights had to be 600 kilograms/1,323 pounds or less, and their landing configuration stall speeds had to be no more than 45 knots. Apart from that, the sky became the limit. They can have retractable gear; constant-speed propellers; piston, electric, or turbine powerplants; and cruise speeds deep in the triple digits—again, nothing like our ultralights.

A wave of new designs cropped up like mad, giving Europeans sleek new airplanes. Like the VL3 Turbine.

Someone just raised their hand. When can we fly these swanky new “ultralights” in the United States? you ask. Answer: Not until, or if, the FAR Part 23 rewrite and/or its MOSAIC (Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates) initiative makes it official. Until then, owners who import them will have to fly them under the experimental or experimental-exhibition categories. Meanwhile, dealers are springing up.

Let’s hope that sometime soon we can have a 200-knot “ultralight” of our own. Anybody out there willing to ante up?

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Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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