Previously, I shared some thinking about how I plane to build a kit airplane in the future (after The Barn is complete), and which three models I narrowed my selection to. This post gives more insights into how I begin framing the selection decision and the nuances of each design.
In comparing these three kitplanes, there is no “right” or “wrong” design. It’s a question of “What is my mission?” around usage of the aircraft and then evaluating the merits of each design against that mission. It then becomes an evaluation of capabilities, but also incorporating additional criteria such as cost and time to build.
After some long thinking on the mission, my conclusion is the plane would be primarily used for day trips across New England. Primarily destinations less than 300 miles away. This allows me to go visit a location, ideally with a passenger, spend a few hours there, and then be able to return the same day.
Sometimes it’s also useful to think about what I don’t want or need. I don’t plan on flying in Instrument conditions (poor weather). Complex aircraft design (very fast, retractable gear) is not necessary – simpler is better in my opinion. A four passenger plane may be desired, but the additional cost and time to build is not justifiable when you look at the statistics that indicate 90%+ of the time pilots fly with 1 or no passengers.
Each of these three planes meet the criteria above and any would be a good selection, which makes the decision even more difficult. Before building a more quantitative analysis, here are the design philosophies of each aircraft.
The Van’s RV-14a design is based on the evolution of decade’s worth of design and airplanes from Vans Aircraft in Washington. They’ve basically taken the “best” of their designs and combined into a 2 seat aircraft that is speedy, agile (allowing gentlemen’s acrobatics), and stable.
It’s relatively quick to build with all aluminum parts preformed and predrilled. Flush rivets are primarily used which give the surface skin a sleek finish and improved aerodynamics, but take longer to construct as each must be “bucked”.
The cabin was designed to be comfortable for the larger-average American that is more the norm these days. The wings are removable, but not foldable. It requires a somewhat larger and relatively rare engine that puts out 210hp. It is the fastest of the three, with typical cruise being around 195 mph with a stall speed of 53mph. It also has the highest useful load.
This plane has an obvious different design philosophy from the other two. It is an evolution of a STOL (Short-takeoff and landing) design. A STOL plan is engineered for high-lift, so it can quickly take off or land on short, unimproved runways like those you would find out in more remote regions. The tradeoff is a much slower cruise speed, but those who are fans love the ability to “take in the scenery” and enjoy the trip.
This iterate of the original design is considered the “on-airport” version of the popular STOL CH 750 “off-airport” light sport utility kit plane. Even though it is influenced by its STOL predecessors, the CH 750 Cruzer is an all-new design optimized as an economical cross-country cruiser for typical (airport) operations.
Of all the designs it has the fastest build time, utilizing pull rivets that do not require bucking. It would likely need half the hours of the RV-14 to build. It is also the lowest cost kit of the three by about 10-20%.
The Lightning XS is based on a Light-Sport plane that has been modified and bulked up to support a larger useful load and bigger engine. It also has taller landing gear for bigger props, bigger brakes, and 20 gallon fuel tanks. Its fiberglass exterior is built around a steel tube fuselage and empennage. As a result it is very aerodynamic and with little riveting, but the tradeoff is working with composites which is a completely unknown skillset. I’m comfortable with aircraft of this construction after having spent many hours flying the Diamond DA40XLS. In terms of speed, useful load, range, and hours to build, it sits in the middle of all three options. The manufacture is the youngest of the three with the least amount of planes flying in the fleet. But they seem to have an enthusiastic user base and promising future.
In sending an email to Arion to ask a few questions, the engineer primarily responsible for the design, Nick Otterback, responded very quickly. He indicated there is no difficult structural composite work. All components are closed or mated together (fuselage). The canopy is the only major component that must be built requiring some bonding and laminating of skins. Some simple bonding such as, rear windows, NACA scoops, wing tips, ect must be done. In addition, the wings can be fitted at home and later removed for final assembly at the airport.
|Specs||RV14||CH750 Cruzer||Lightning XS|
|Span||27′||29′ 6″||27′ 2″|
|Length||21′ 1″||23′ 3″||20′ 8″|
|Height||8′ 2″||9′ 4″||6′ 6″|
|Wing Area||126.1 sq. ft.||142 sq. ft.||91 sq. ft.|
|Wing Loading||16.25||9.3 LBS/FT²||16 lbs/sq. ft|
|Power Loading||9.76 lbs/BHP||10.15 lbs/BHP|
|Hours to build||1500||700||850|
|Engine||Lyc IO-390 210 HP||UL350iS 125hp||XP320|
|Engine||Lyc IO-390 210 HP||UL350iS 125hp||O-320|
|Speed – Gross Weight|
|Top Speed||205 mph||125mph||195|
|Cruise (7500’ @ 5500 rpm)||195 mph||118mph||180|
|Cruise (7500’ @ 5000 rpm)||169 mph|
|Stall Speed||53 mph||29 mph||63|
|Rate of Climb||1800 fpm||1200 fpm||1500 fpm|
|Range (no reserve)||938 sm||525||900|