Not exactly, but close. The airplane pictured below is the Vashon R7 Ranger S-LSA and it has an intriguing story, an inviting price and the latest Dynon avionics. First, the story. Several years ago Dynon’s founder and CEO John Torode had an idea to build and sell a new airplane model and although it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be an LSA, it fell within the price point he was after. After years of listening to pilots describe what they might want in a modern LSA, Torode figured out that the obvious stuff potential buyers wanted was something he could offer. It had to have plenty of cool factor, an affordable price and capable avionics. The avionics, of course, would be easy. Dynon enjoys much success in the experimental avionics market with a proven product line that remains on the cutting edge.
With the help of Ken Krueger, who spent over 16 years on the engineering team at Van’s Aircraft (he later became the chief engineer), the Vashon R7 Ranger was born, flew and is now certified as an S-LSA. The company plans to build at least 20 R7 Rangers this year and a lot more next year. The starting price is $99,500, but the flagship version could max out at around $120,000. In my estimation, Krueger’s involvement (and subsequent Van’s DNA built into the Ranger) steps the plane up a few notches.
The R7 Ranger is different from many LSAs because it has an all-aluminum fuselage and interestingly, a 100-HP Continental O-200-D spinning a Catto fixed-pitch propeller. Where lots of other LSA models are powered by some kind of Rotax, Torode decided that the R7 had to have a small Continental even if means a weight penalty because he thinks it’s iconic, easily serviced in the field and would be more accepted by flight schools and also older pilots. The aircraft has a 445-pound useful load, a 430-NM range and a top cruising speed of 117 knots.
Vashon’s Amy Bellesheim (a flight instructor who comes to Vashon after working with Boeing on its 777) told me the company is doing everything possible to save on manufacturing costs, including manufacturing many of its own parts. Aside from doing in-house avionics (the aircraft factory is a few steps away from Dynon’s facility on Paine Field in Woodinville, Washington), Vashon is using predrilled and prepainted metal, which eliminates the need to put a paint job on the airplane when it’s assembled. Graphics are done with vinyl wrap and Bellesheim said there’s no end to the custom schemes customers can design for their Ranger.
At first blush, the R7 Ranger has a pretty utilitarian cabin dwelling. There’s no fancy leather seating and plush sidewalls. But if a stark interior helps keep the cost down, I’m not complaining. As I eyeballed the R7 I couldn’t help but think of how I would use the aircraft. As a cyclist who loads my bicycle in my vehicle to travel to regional events, the Ranger—with seats that fold down 90 degrees—could easily accommodate my full-size road bike. The 445-pound useful load would be plenty for this 170-pounder, and 117 knots beats my Nissan truck.
The base model is called the Yellowstone and includes the Dynon Skyview Touch avionics; upgraded models will have the HDX system. There are currently two R7s flying and four in assembly line to be ready for sale this April. If Vashon can stick to its under-$100,000 price, we might finally see an LSA for which the category was intended: That’s budget-minded pilots like me with adventurous flying plans who need limited utility. The Dynon glass avionics sweeten the deal. We’re planning a flight evaluation of the R7, so stay tuned.