ULTRAFLIGHT Magazine - September 2001
The Russians Are Coming!
(Or Are Those Planes Ukrainian?)
by Jim Bethea
Above: John Hunter tests an A-26 Vulcan SS over Lake Istokpoga, near Sebring.
There is an old comedy movie that spoofs American paranoia about being invaded by the once-feared Soviet military. It ends with Americans and Russians getting to know each other and becoming great friends.
Well, it's about time we met some of the best microlight-type aircraft available from the territory of the former Soviet Union. In this case, an American named John Hunter, of Spectrum Aircraft, has made friends with the folks from Aeroprakt of Kiev, Ukraine. And Hunter is busy introducing their wonderful planes to the rest of us.
Okay, okay! So Aeroprakt is in Ukraine, not Russia, as my friend Sergey adamantly points out. But it used to be part of... Ouch! Who threw that shoe? Dimitri, my Russian friend, says the planes are Russian, designed by Russian engineers? Hey! Hold it, guys! We're supposed to all be great friends now, remember?
Actually, there are two companies that sound like they have the same name though spelled differently: Aeroprakt of Kiev and Aeropract of Samara, Russia.
Russian engineers from the old Soviet ANTK Anatov group formed Aeroprakt after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. When Ukraine split-off after centuries of Russian domination, another Aeropract was hastily organized in Samara to make Russian copies of the planes.
There is no connection between the two except for a bit of friendly rivalry now and then... Hey! Oww! Break it up, you two! Peace!
Whew! Well, John Hunter assures us that the level of engineering expertise and construction quality of Aeroprakt's planes are exceptional. A brief inspection of the twin-engine Vulcan he had on display at Sun-N-Fun tends to support his claim.
John's judgment is based on years as a founding member and Marketing Director of Leza Lockwood, plus on the fact that he built a couple of AirCams himself.
Hunter formed Spectrum Aircraft in 1998 with the idea of building an ideal twin-engine ultralight-type plane. Then he discovered the Ukrainians (er, Russians?) had already designed something very similar and were looking for ways to market their planes in other parts of the world. Rather than compete,
|Below: A Vulcan SS in cruise mode, doing 115
Below: Aeroprakt engineers Yuri Yakovlev and Alexi
Litovchenko relax at Spectrum facility at Sebring
John chose to become friends. The result is that Spectrum is now the marketing company for Aeroprakt in the western hemisphere. East and West have finally met.
Actually, Spectrum Aircraft and Aeroprakt are linked by a common partner, Gulf Aviation Technologies (GAT) of the United Arab Emirates. The relationship involves John's company directly in the development and testing of new Aeroprakt planes.
Eighty percent of the world market for microlight-type planes is in the West. Many of the parts and materials used are supplied from the USA and complete kits will eventually be made here. The main contribution from the Ukrainian company is the high caliber of their aircraft engineering for relatively low cost. The engines are from Europe, by the way, and Aeroprakt is also known as a Ukrainian-Finnish company. (So, just where are these planes actually from?)
Anyway, Aeroprakt currently offers a line of nine aircraft designated by even numbers such as the A-20 Vista, A-22 Valor, A-24 Viking or the twin-engine A-26 Vulcan. By contrast, Russian Aeropract planes are designated by odd numbers, such as A-23.
GAT commissioned Aeroprakt to build John's idea of the ideal twin in 1998. Four months later, a prototype was flying. When John traveled overseas to see the first A-26 Vulcan, it had already flown over three hundred hours without any major problems or changes needed. That is a remarkable achievement for the Aeroprakt engineers and construction team.
The Vulcan John had on display was sent to the US as a kit and assembled in just eleven days!
The Vulcan is a tandem two-seater with twin pusher engines mounted on high, strut-braced wings. It resembles the original A-20 design with the most obvious difference being two engines instead of the Vista's one. A glance at Spectrum's website http://www.spectrumaircraft.com/ shows John Hunter is also marketing a low-wing, twin-engine tractor version called the A-28 Victor. The single-engine tractor side-by-side two seater is the A-22 Valor. In addition, Spectrum has a new Viking three-seat amphibian. All have the characteristic high "T" tail and sturdy composite construction.
Performance ranges from the STOL ultralight-like speeds of the A-20 up to 137 mph cruise for the A-30 Vista Speedster. Engines are mostly two-stroke Rotax 503 or 582's, but John says they are offering four-stroke engine choices as well. The twin Rotax 582's of the Vulcan are tuned for cruise at 5,800 RPM which gives 115 mph with two people aboard, plus quick acceleration with a take-off run of 98' and 2000' per minute climb. Glide ratio is an impressive 12:1 with the engines off.
Regarding the two or four-stroke controversy, John says a much more relevant question to ask is how much power versus weight a plane should carry. Two-strokes have better power to weight ratio as well as relative cost. The main difference is that four-strokes can endure inadequate maintenance whereas two-strokes are more apt to fail if something is not done correctly.
Hunter has flown over 4000 hours during the past 15 years, mostly with two-stroke engines, which he recommends for the Vulcan.
Vista Cruisers carry 33 gallons, giving them a potential range of over 800 miles. John flew one 1320 miles from Florida to Indiana with only one refueling stop (which included a couple of demo flights and five take-offs) and still landed with seven or eight gallons left over.
Ten-gallon fuel tanks are offered for the A-20 Vista. Empty weight is 480 to 500 lbs, and cruising speeds are 78 to 87 mph. The plane was not intended as an ultralight trainer but the tandem seats make this a possible use. Otherwise, fuel capacity is 23.8 gallons. Take-off roll is around 260 feet, followed by 600 fpm climb with a Rotax 503 or 1000 fpm with a 582. Range is estimated at 248 miles with 4.5 hrs endurance.
Obviously, Aeroprakt planes are not ultralights according to American FAA FAR 103 rules. They do, however, meet European standards for microlight aircraft.
Above: The new 4-seat, 200 hp A-28 Victor prototype over Lake Istokpoga. This aircraft is currently being evaluated at Sebring by Spectrum.
Below: The A-22 Valor, crusing over
Below: The new A-28 Victor has large gull-wing doors
for easy access.
I asked my Russian friend, Dimitri Volgin, what the rules are for microlights in Russia.
He laughed, "Very easy, no rules!" Jokingly, he explained, "Ten or fifteen years ago, during Soviet rule, all planes were restricted to instrument flight rules. You had to advise ATC and file a flight plan before even jumping off a roof!"
Now, Dimitri says, there are thousands of trikes and other homebuilt microlights up to the size of small planes, such as the Vulcan, flying freely without licenses and certification.
About the Aeroprakt aircraft, Dimitri says, "I see an A-20 and I cannot understand that it is not Russian. The engineers are all Russian. True, it is built in Ukraine but even in Kiev the language you hear is Russian. So what is the difference? I consider these Russian planes."
Another friend, Araslanov Sergey, answered from a Ukrainian perspective. "In Ukraine, all Aeroprakt planes are certificated in accordance with the BFU 95 rules for microlights adapted from Germany. The German standards are some of the most stringent in the world. That says a lot for the high quality of Aeroprakt engineering. All pilots in Ukraine must earn either an Amateur or Commercial license from one of several government-approved schools run by private clubs."
Sergey also points to a highly-disciplined heritage of ultralight aircraft designs common to both countries, starting from the Aviation Institute begun in 1959, development of the Federation of Ultralight Pilots through the 70's and 80's, and annual ultralight competitions that started in 1983. He mentions that the historical source of Russian civilization is Kiev which was founded by Vikings.
Despite the intense feelings between the two countries, Ukraine and Russia still have much in common, somewhat like the cultral ties between
Canada and the United States. Sergey is editor of "General Aviation In CIS" magazine with an excellent English website at http://www.aviajournal.com/.
Cost of a basic A-26 Vulcan kit from Spectrum Aircraft is $25,500. Other Aeroprakt designs can be built for less than $25,000 up to $120,000 for the new A-28, depending on options. Compared to other twins such as a $50,000 AirCam kit and considering overall performance, this price range is fairly competitive. Build time for the Vulcan is less than 300 hours. (The 11-day miracle John is flying was done with the help of a couple of experts, by the way.) Professional building assistance is provided at the Spectrum Aircraft facilities in Sebring for those who want to vacation in Florida.
So, if you want a plane with great visibility, excellent cruising potential, short-field capability, comfort, twin-engine security and many other options such as floats, then check the Aeroprakt at http://www.spectrumaircraft.com/. Or call John Hunter in Florida at (863) 655-9299 or even contact the Aeroprakt folks directly in Kiev at 380-44-446-3079.
At last, you can enjoy these great Ukrainian aircraft and be friends with... Yow! Uh, oh! Okay, so they're Russian! No? Well, one thing is for sure, you guys are all true Vikings. Throw in the Saudi investors, Finns, Germans and us Americans, shake the bag and let's just call Aeroprakt our latest global airplane company. Now is everybody happy? Big smiles and bear hugs (Russian?) all `round!