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Well, got your attention at least. Is the Merlin single-seat aircraft innovative? After all the Wright Brothers created the first single seater so I guess they were slightly ahead of me. And there are too many to name single-seaters produced subsequently. So what is so innovative about another single-seater? I could sum it up in one word: Viability. But then my blog would be over. One blog reader would be disappointed, not sure about the other one, probably relieved. So I will take my chances and knowingly repeat myself but coming from my personal experience not a brochure here I go again:

  • Aircraft such as the Thorpe (Lockheed Little Dipper) and Mooney Mite designed in the 1940s Are not that far away from the Merlin and next years’ Stinger but were designed around 1940s engines of course. Now we have Rotax and HKS offering modern power and reliability and much lighter weight.
  • And even more recently we have 3D computer design software like Solid Works readily available at reasonable costs. Having an aircraft designed from the scratch on 3D software means data to make the parts goes directly into CNC machines for fabrication. The primary machine being the turret punch press which can make a few hundred holes per minute plus cut curves, flanges, and lightening holes all in a matter of minutes. With the thin aluminum used in the Merlin several sheets can be stacked so dozens of parts are made very quickly. Other CNC machines include a 3-axis mill, 3-axis lathe, and a brake-press. The result is that the parts fit so well that very little fine-tuning is required and the holes are even punched to final size. This not only significantly reduces the assembly hours but also removes a lot of the ‘skilled-labor’ component. One of the reasons the Merlin can be offered at such a reasonable price.
  • We also have a mission to fill: Viability. What that means is subjective but it is my blog so here is what viability means for me:
    • Not claustrophobic. I would fly an aircraft that I could just fit in but I would never own one. I need some space around me. Elbow room, head room, stretch the legs room. Wiggle room. The Merlin has all that with more ‘personal space’ per person than the majority of LSA or even GA aircraft.
    • Comfort. That is a bit redundant with above but worth mentioning again. I made up a second Temperfoam bottom seat cushion for the trip and my butt thanks me. I was plenty comfortable on my 2-hour legs and could easily have flown more but I stuck with my plan and my generous safety margins.
    • Baggage space; and not just volume but weight capacity to carry stuff. Witness my flight to Oshkosh. I didn’t go out and buy some modern superlight bag but just grabbed my old Swiss Gear roll on. Stuffed it full too. Fit fine. Plus I packed a tool kit with spare batteries and the usual stuff. And a computer bag with a notebook, chargers, and documents for the show. And a flight bag to carry charts (yes I still carry a sectional, shows my age (or maybe I don’t yet fully trust the new tablets and apps?)), headset, tablet, GPS, and chargers for everything. Oh, and a case of 2-cycle oil. Plus a bag of snacks and a few bottles of water.
    • BRS. Not mandatory but in addition to all that stuff above I have a 25 lb BRS with rocket of course on the rear shelf. So yes, there is plenty of space for generous camping gear. And maybe even a really cool folding electric bike with 20 mile range I saw at Oshkosh. What a perfect accessory for the Merlin.
    • Goes somewhere. I was not pushing it and averaged around 100 mph on this trip. In the next few weeks I will be testing smaller diameter and 2-blade props, both of which will improve the cruise speeds. I am quite sure 110 to 120 mph TAS is realistic. SportCruiser speeds for 1/3rd the cost!
    • Speaking of cost, maybe that should be #1 as most people I speak with don’t think a 2-seat LSA should cost > $150k. A loaded Merlin is under $50k and one could economize with the panel and the engine to have one in the $25k range.
    • Financing available. Oh really? Why didn’t I mention this before? Well, I want to make sure it really works but I have lined it up. Anyone want to test it?
    • Fun to fly! Oh this should be first. Well, everything is important. But don’t just take my word for it: Two of the journalists I respect the most wrote that they didn’t want to stop flying or wanted to go up again right away. Hell of an endorsement if you ask me. But the reality is the Merlin is a high-performance aircraft, at least in its’ class. I have written before about the power-to-weight ratio and the wing loading. But I was mostly referring to the comfort level in turbulence and that it is a nice aircraft to fly all day long. The rest of the story is the fun I have just zipping around the sky using all 3 dimensions liberally.
    • Good feeling. This is also very subjective but another #1 on the list. If you don’t trust your aircraft or don’t feel safe and comfortable it will become a hangar queen.  The Merlin has honestly rejuvenated my enthusiasm for flying. I would not hesitate to make another long trip. No problem climbing over 9,000 feet to clear the cumulus or even a little scud-running at 500 feet when necessary. And easy to make that 180 degree turn! So maybe I will show up at a fly-in near you soon!

If you prefer to see the movie rather than read the book I just wrote above click here:

And coming soon: Real innovation hopefully in the electric and hybrid power area that is moving along.



Chip W. Erwin
South Lakeland Airport
Lakeland, FL

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