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What is a PSA?

PERSONAL SPORT AIRCRAFT
What does that mean?

That means around the same cost as a Harley Davidson or Goldwing motorcycle. At least a little under $40k if not a lot under.

Single-seat. That is the personal part of it. And it makes the aircraft affordable.

But that can take on a lot of meanings. Fast? Or slow? Or amphib? Or all of the above as long as it is FUN TO FLY.

Low maintenance. High reliability.

Quick and easy to dismantle to minimize hanger cost or to transport home to store.

That’s my own preference. It’s both nicer in the cockpit and draws less attention from those on the ground. Protect our sport!

These parameters rule out 2 seat aircraft primarily due to the high cost of the engine. And rule out 2-stroke engines due to their noise and maintenance issues. Some will say reliability issues as well but 2-stokes can be reliable with proper (read a lot of) maintenance.

Consider these points:

Aircraft engineers know that the cost of an aircraft increases by the cube of the number of seats. Therefore a single-seat aircraft should cost under $50k ($150/3).

Most sport and recreational flights are flown alone and for 42 minutes.

The most common LSA engine costs upwards of $20k by itself.

One of the first PSA was the 1947 single-seat Mooney Mite which costs more than most 2-seat post-war aircraft at the time at $3,500.

The Mooney Mite price in 2015 dollars is $38,500.

Aircraft make noise for a few seconds and then, pass by. Ultralights make noise but don’t go anywhere and can be mistaken for a big mosquito irritating someone’s BBQ.

A personal Sport Aircraft is first and foremost affordable for most people. Read the following dissertation which was the foundation for the recent article by Dan Johnson recently published in General Aviation News:

PSA: An Affordable Aircraft?

Is ‘affordable aircraft’ an oxymoron? For most people probably yes. But maybe there is some hope in a class of aircraft I like to refer to as a PSA or Personal Sport Aircraft.

Personal Sport Aircraft (PSA) might just become a revived niche in aviation. A class of aircraft without the cost of LSA and without the limitations of Part 103 ultralights. So what is a PSA? Well, I am just making it up as I go so this is what I think it could or should be:

  • Priced between $32k and $45k. Not much more than a Harley-Davidson or Goldwing motorcycle. Affordable for many.
  • Powered by a 4-stroke aircraft engine or an electric-power system.
  • Can be flown with Sport Pilot license and no medical.
  • Fully enclosed and conventional aircraft style and construction.
  • Good performance and handling. Cruise around 100mph and can fly VFR all day.
  • And of course must look really nice and fly like a sport car or motorcycle drives.

I should point out that a PSA by my definition and by cost constraints must be a single-seat aircraft. 2-seat aircraft would put us right back into LSA with most having an engine costing $20k which contributes to the higher aircraft cost.

If someone did a study I think they would find out that the vast majority of sport flying sorties last about 42 minutes and are flown alone so maybe having only one seat is not such a bad trade-off to save six figures.

And if another study was done many ‘significant others’ would be silently relieved that they would not be able to go flying with their spouses’ new toy.

Perhaps the original PSA: The Mooney Mite

Perhaps the original PSA: The Mooney Mite

The Mite was designed by Al Mooney and was intended as a personal airplane marketed to fighter pilots returning from World War II. However it was priced 20% higher than most of the 2-seat competitors at the time. Perhaps if it was priced 75% lower than the 2-seat competition as a modern PSA could be then it may have been a greater success. However it did enjoy a nice production run of 283 units would be very respectable in today’s market.

There are a few aircraft out there that kind of fit in this new PSA class but they fail in 1 or 2 criteria. Maybe they use 2-stroke engines, or are dated designs, or dated construction or just plan ugly, or are too expensive or all of the above.

I built a pretty good aircraft manufacturing business in Europe a few years ago by offering the best aircraft I could at a reasonable and very competitive price. I was able to do this by operating an efficient and lean factory in the Czech Republic when skilled and trained aircraft labor was around $3/hour and aeronautical engineers earned MacDonald wages. What I sold then was European microlights which were 450 kg gross weight and 2-seats and were powered by Rotax 4-stroke engines. Prices ranged around $60k retail. Dozens of similar style aircraft morphed themselves into USA LSA aircraft when that rule came into effect and gradually the options increased and the prices doubled.

But now most LSA aircraft sell for upwards of $150k. The short list of reasons:

  • Cheap skilled labor is gone. Due to wage inflation and f/x rates Eastern Europe labor is now nearly 500% higher.
  • Cheap labor can still be found but with low skills attached and other stigmas like ‘built in China’.
  • Aircraft engines now costs more than double upwards of $20k.
  • Most LSA are priced around $140k however anyone who can afford that much for a 2-seat aircraft can afford $175k too so they add every option like leather, autopilot, dual glass plus a 3rd GPS…. Back in the day our option list was not much more than a handheld GPS and a transponder.
  • Sales volume is so low at those prices that manufacturers and distributors have to make huge margins on each sale to survive. Note 235 aircraft sold/year divided by 100+ manufacturers.

Truly affordable aircraft are for the most part only found in ultralights. I would theorize that there would be a lot more women enjoying the sport of UL flying if they didn’t have to mess with the fuel and oil and maintenance and noise and vibration and fumes, and reliability of a 2-stroke (besides that they are fine). That probably holds true for a lot of men too they just won’t admit it….

The void in the availability of a 40-60 hp 4-stroke aircraft engine may be one reason that there are few PSA aircraft. There are some morphing Briggs and Stratton and other lawn mower and generator engines with some good results and very low cost. But can that be done commercially and with the reliability we expect from an aircraft engine?

However there is some hope here as I am closely following the development of two new 4-stroke engines designed for aircraft and with dual ignition and in this power range. But they are heavier and less power than the common Rotax 2-strokes. And as most ultralight aircraft are built right up to the limit of the Part 103 rule they will sacrifice performance or may not even be legal with a 4-stroke.

And how about electric power? What works with electric now are low drag lightweight aircraft that do not require much power to fly. A PSA-style aircraft is near perfect by definition. Those developing electric power are pushing 2-seat aircraft which incidentally cannot be certified under LSA or Part 23 and do not have the endurance to be viable for much more than circles around the airport not to mention a price over $150k. Until battery energy capacity increases significantly, electric power for aircraft may be limited to exactly what a PSA is supposed to be.

That I have found out personally as electric power is nearly the ideal if:

  • The aircraft can carry enough battery to fly for an hour (hard to do and meet Part 103).
  • The motor can provide enough power at low RPM (what good is a silent motor when the prop is screaming noise at 2500 rpm?
  • The entire system can be designed and integrated for safe operation (Boeing 787 incidents come to mind).

I happen to be one of those developing electric power for aircraft. This technology really does have huge potential. And a PSA is the perfect place to start. My new electric motor is designed specifically for aircraft use meaning it has high torque, low RPM, light weight and reliability to the extreme. Concurrently my new battery system has one of the highest LiPo power densities commercially available and is integrated with the motor, controller, and battery management system with safe operation as the priority.

psa

New generation high-torque and low-RMP electric motor with quiet-technology propeller.

Electric power will work with a PSA with the current technology and if properly designed should provide an endurance of more than 1 hour. For those who want to fly farther and faster couple the electric motor with a small 4-stroke aircraft engine for a viable hybrid.hybrid-motor

 

 

Then of course is the small issue of certification. Simplified Part 23 rules are coming but that will still mean significant certification costs to amortize. There is the classic E-AB rules which allow customer-built aircraft. And with a simple design and modern construction methods of matched-hole and jig-less assembly build time can be measured in weeks not years.

The CAA in the UK has published a new SSDR (Single-Seat Deregulated) rules which allows the sale of a finished single seat aircraft up to 315 kg gross weight, a simple license and a reasonable stall speed maximum of 35 knots. This is a perfect PSA rule which I hope will spread to other countries.

What a perfect plan. All we need is to develop viable electric and 4-stroke power systems and single seat airframes with modern construction and ramp appeal. Then there will be Personal Sport Aircraft.

Contact

Chip W. Erwin
South Lakeland Airport
Lakeland, FL
262-408-0124

info@aeromarine-lsa.com

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