“ I regret to inform you that your body measurements are outside the acceptable limits for all forms of flying training”
That was the RAF’s impertinent response when I applied to join from school in 1975 – I’m only 6’7” for heaven’s sake – and at the other end of my flying career this heightism still lurks in the design of microlights and GA aircraft.Two exceptions I’ve found are Flight Design with their CT series and the TL Ultralight Sirius.
I’ve been lucky to have a share in CTSW G-CENE at Barton for the past 4 years. It’s a spacious go-anywhere machine and I’ve enjoyed both touring and building up short strip experience but the itch to have my own plane needed satisfying, and in particular I wanted to improve on the frustrating microlight MTOW limit. I liked the performance of the 100hp Rotax 912ULS so a 600kg LAA Permit type seemed the way to go, but it was apparent that the decent head and leg-room of the CT was going to be hard to match.
TL Ultralight is a Czech company based on the former Soviet airfield at Hradec Kralove (no, still can’t pronounce it) about 70 miles east of Prague and is represented in the UK by a couple of affable chaps, Peter Ronfell and Paul Sanders. Their website stingaircraft.co.uk will tell you all you need to know about the popular low-wing Sting which was first to be LAA approved, and the high wing Sirius which followed. Peter has his own Sirius at Blackpool which I folded myself into for a test flight.. (There’s a YouTube video of a flight in it by Plane Old Ben) I was impressed by the quality carbon fibre design, the space – the seat is fixed but the rudder pedals extend way forwards, and there’s ample headroom – and the performance and well balanced handling. The yokes and overhead switches appealed to the ex-airline pilot in me too.
Jet2 whisked my wife Helen and me over to Prague (more heightism in the seat pitch, grrr) and we caught a trundling almost empty train to Hradec (lovely old town centre) to visit the TL factory. A lot was wasted on me but it’s a hi-tech facility – think CAD and the magic of 3D printing – producing quality components which apparently wowed the LAA engineers. Another test flight in the Sirius demonstrator (watch out for the ASI in km/h !) and I was ready to sign up.
Keeping things simple I opted for the well proven 912ULS and a ground adjustable Kiev 283/1800 prop. TL offer their own variable pitch prop but it’s more expensive and heavier. The Sirius is already nose heavy as the engine sits quite a way forward on its mounts in an engine compartment which is twice the length of the CT. I was surprised to learn that to compensate for his VP prop Peter Ronfell had to put ballast in the tail. I’d rather have the extra fuel. The Sirius is draggier than the CT with a greater wingspan and struts but it still manages about 100kts at 16 litres/hour.
Peter Ronfell has stuck with the included package of analogue flight and engine instruments in his Sirius and simply added an Avmap Ultra EFIS to provide a horizon. It’s a cost effective solution but in the end I went for a single Garmin G3X system with Garmin radio and remote ADSB transponder. It’s an expensive luxury but I saved by opting for my copilot Dave rather than an autopilot (which can’t buy you beer or record your adventures in verse). Opting for the G3X also meant the analogue instruments could be put on the right hand panel for copilot use. An Ipad mini with SkyDemon is mounted centrally to complete the panel.
The aircraft came in kit form by road from Hradec and was assembled in Peter’s garage in Ecclestone. Build assistance was comprehensive, the build-manual complying with the LAA 51% rule, and we then trailered G-CLFG to Barton where the wings were attached. I was surprised when it weighed in empty at 379kg, considerably heavier than some of the blurb suggested. Not so ultralight. The load/fuel possibilities are an improvement on the CT but I’m often not as far away from the MTOW as I’d expected to be. Electric flap positions are 15 and 45 with limit speeds of 75kt and 55kt – the latter is lower than the CT’s 62kt and takes a bit of planning for. I miss the CT’s large windows and sometimes feel the same “looking out of a pillar box” effect as in a Cessna – and indeed the Sirius was deliberately designed as a Cessna lookalike/replacement – but visibility is plenty good enough.
Performance is spirited, getting airborne in about 200m on grass, so 400m strips are doable. It handles very nicely, trim changes are gentle and the stall is completely docile. And it has a solid, quality feel. 40 hrs on the clock so far and I’m looking forward to new horizons with the sleek Sirius, Dave the Bard and the CheshireFlyers. Taking me to new heights you might say. Or poetry in motion.
ps G-CLFG was only the fourth Sirius on the British register but sadly number 2 was written off in a landing accident at Old Warden last summer.
pps 1/5th share in CTSW for sale!