If there’s anything surprising about light sport airplanes, it’s that there isn’t much surprising about light sport airplanes. Bolt a 100-HP Rotax to a 750-pound airframe and you get something that climbs about 500 FPM, cruises about 110 knots and ranges to 500 miles. Will that be high wing or low wing?
Amidst this calm sea of sameness, does opportunity lurk? Renegade Aircraft, a small startup you’ve probably never heard of, thinks so. Renegade is marketing an upscale, sporty LSA that represents the sharp wedge of handful of LSAs powered not by Rotax, but by Lycoming’s new O-233 engine. The supposed market appeal here is higher performance and a “real” aircraft engine, this despite the fact that Rotax has made itself the largest manufacturer of aircraft engines by becoming the LSA standard.
Can Lycoming muscle in? Renegade’s Doc Bailey thinks so, especially for those customers who just don’t like Rotax’s high-revving whine and who are more interested in performance than low price. There’s little question that Lycoming, despite its higher weight, has the performance potential, even in a light airframe. And if Renegade has proven anything, it’s that an ambitious manufacturer can capitalize on ASTM’s relaxed oversight to fast-track development.
On its own and working with Precision Airmotive, Renegade encouraged developments of a fuel injection system for the O-233, thus, the IO-233. And get this: It’s considered a FADEC version and has supported Lycoming to develop the AEIO-233, a fully aerobatic version of the engine to suit the Renegade Falcon’s aerobatic airframe. All three of these taken together could give Lycoming a significant competitive advantage, at least in a small slice of the LSA market.
Out of the Shadows
Renegade’s Falcon may be the sleekest LSA that you’ve never heard of. The company had two of them parked in the Lycoming booth at AirVenture last summer and we walked right past them without registering what they were. They are, to a degree, early casualties of the LSA wars, built by a Hungarian company called Corvus and sold under the nameplate Corone. It first appeared in the U.S. in 2007 and later that year, a new variant called the Corvus Corone Phantom appeared at Friedrichshaven, powered by a Rotax 912. The following year, a version of the Phantom with a Lycoming O-235 was produced in the U.S. Renegade’s Bailey told us there are about 140 airframes flying in Europe.
In 2010, Corvus got sideways with the Hungarian government over matching loan guarantees and went bankrupt as a Hungarian entity. The Corvus nameplate still exists in Italy and France as dealer entities.
Bailey’s involvement began as a sales agent for T&T Aviation, which was importing the line from Europe, but not making much of a splash. When Corvus was restructured in 2010, he acquired intellectual property and manufacturing rights for the U.S., but no tooling or production equipment. At that point, the Corvus Phantom—powered by either the 100-HP Rotax 912 or the Lycoming O-235—became the Renegade Falcon and the company turned to building it with Lycoming’s emerging O-233.
Bailey sees his primary market as what are often called full-circle pilots between the ages of 55 and 65. They may be previous aircraft owners or always-wanted-to-be pilots who see in LSA an opportunity to fly and own an airplane unthreatened by the loss of a medical. Bailey told us he sees this older demographic as the sustaining force for sales, with a timeline extending at least 10 years or more. And after that? Clearly, the company will have to court younger buyers.
Full-circle pilots, according to Bailey, have a definite taste for conventional aircraft engines, if not an aversion for the Rotax, which they tend to view as a converted snowmobile engine—or worse. Evidently, they also like the idea of fuel injection. “I haven’t talked to a single buyer who asked for a carbureted version of the Lycoming engine,” Bailey told us.
Unfortunately, in competing against Rotax, both Lycoming and Continental have the same problem: weight. Rotax installations typically total about 170 pounds all in, with all the plumbing and associated hardware. In an airplane with a 1320-pound gross weight and useful loads a little less than 500 pounds, if that, every ounce matters. Bailey says the Lycoming is heavier, at about 211 pounds, plus another 22 pounds for the prop, fuel injection and the tuned cross-tube exhaust Renegade is using.
But he insists the Falcon airframe, which is built using vacuum-formed Kevlar and carbon fiber, is light enough to accommodate the heavier engine. The Falcon demo model we flew had a claimed empty weight of 826 pounds for a useful load of 484 pounds. With full fuel (30 gallons), it will carry 324 pounds—not quite two people or two small people and a paper sack for baggage.
That’s comparable to an O-200-equipped Skycatcher, but heavier than a Flight Designs CTLS and way heavier than a Remos GX. Both of those airplanes also use carbon construction, but the lighter Rotax engines give them a weight advantage.
Renegade’s hope is to build a small LSA manufacturing base—both its own Falcon models and other manufacturers—based on Lycoming power. “Our ambition is to build an all U.S.-made LSA and provide about 20 jobs,” Bailey says. However, he concedes that Lycoming’s penetration into LSA will be necessarily limited. “A lot of LSA airframes can’t use the 233. They’re just too heavy,” he says.
Given the construction, don’t expect a downmarket price from Renegade. The base price is $129,000 with a Dynon Skyview, a comm radio and electronic ignition (see sidebar.) But the options lists is essentially unlimited, or at least limited only by weight, so invoices in the $150,000 to $170,000 range might be more the norm. However, with Cessna’s recent announcement that the Skycatcher will sell for about $150,000, the Falcon may suddenly be more in the mainstream with regard to price.
Since acquiring the design from Corvus, Renegade has undertaken some modifications and intends more. We were shown a polished aluminum gear leg, for example, which replaces a failure-prone composite part Corvus originally used. We also saw a sexy taildragger version, which Bailey expects to be a bit faster than the tri-gear model and one that will retain the capability of being converted between the two gear styles. The wings have an overlapping spar arrangement with quick disconnect pins that aren’t intended for routine de-winging, but are meant to be handy for occasional trailering or seasonal garage storage.
Control circuitry is push-pull tubes for the elevator and ailerons and cables for the rudder. The Falcon has a conventional trim tab—electric only—that occupies about a third of the elevator’s trailing edge, centered on its span. We decowled the engine to have a look at its installation and found it clean and easily accessible. The IO-233’s accessory case has been redesigned to accommodate only one accessory pad, for either a conventional magneto or the Champion PMA-based electronic ignition Lycoming offers.
The version we flew had a conventional magneto and a Light Speed solid state CDI ignition, but as an option, it can have two Light Speed systems. A nice maintenance touch is that the oil filter is easily accessible and mounted vertically, so it can be changed without making an oily mess.
Most noticeable in the engine room are two large carbon-fiber plenums to route cooling air in lieu of the traditional sheet metal baffling and seals, which never seem to fit quite right. The cowl itself has two large downstream ports at the back to improve cooling air flow, giving the impression of gills on a fish.
But first, you have to get in and this can prove a challenge. In profile view, the Falcon is radically sleek with a long nose that’s every bit as rakish as the CTLS is pug-nosed. This results in a seat pitch angle more akin to an F1 racer than an airplane, so getting in requires stepping on the seats and shoving your legs down a long tunnel to the rudder pedals. The seats adjust and sliding them forward also moves them higher.
The canopy is huge and pivots, Diamond DA40-style, at the front of the cabin. But unlike the Diamond, the Falcon lacks hand grips so you have find what purchase you can to lower yourself into the seats. (Renegade plans to add glareshield grips.) Once you’re in, the seating position is comfortable and the view outside is stunning. We flew on a cold winter day, so insolation through the canopy was welcome. It would be less so on a summer day, but you can taxi with the canopy held open by its gas springs. Starting the Lycoming is like starting an O-235, and it’s immediately obvious that this isn’t a Rotax. The Lyc shakes and rattles the airframe and settles down to an idle that’s a little more bumpy than a purr. Run-up involves checking the mag and Light Speed system for proper function. All of the vital signs are clearly depicted on the Dynon Skyview.
The airplane has a steerable nosewheel, so ground handling is precise, especially tight turns. However, the airplane we flew needed brake tweaking. We had to rely on demo pilot Chas Perkins in the right seat to get the airplane stopped. Part of this has to do with the reclined seating, making it more difficult to gain good purchase on the toe brakes. Adjusting the seat forward would have helped.
The takeoff roll is also un-Rotax- like; rather than an urgent gathering up speed, the Falcon actually seems to push you back into the seat a little. We didn’t measure the takeoff roll, but the climb rate was impressive—about 1450 feet on a 45-degree day from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, where Renegade is based. The airplane reached pattern altitude by about the middle of the crosswind leg, but it can do it by the end of the runway if pushed.
The clear canopy is so large that the sight picture takes some getting used to, especially on landing. That long snout gives the impression of a taildragger in the flare and the tendency is to round out too high. Thump. It’s easier once you know what to expect. On speed is a must. The airframe looks and is slick. Cross the numbers at 70 knots indicated and the Falcon will punish you with a long float.
We would place the handling in the upper strata of LSAs. Pitch is light, but just this side of twitchy and roll forces feel more like a certified airplane, say the Diamond DA20. Dynamic stability is good and so is roll stability. The airplane has massive Fowler flaps that extend to 40 degrees, but the slowest stall speed seems to come at the 30-degree setting. There’s lots of buffet and a real break, not a pronounced parachute mode. But it takes holding the stick to the stop to get it.
Instructors will likely like this airplane for two reasons. As noted, it climbs like crazy, so a one-hour flight lesson can include a lot of circuits and bumps. It’s also a quick cruiser. The two-blade Prince prop on our trial airplane delivered about 119 knots true, flat out at 4000 feet burning a little over 8 GPH. Bailey told us with cruise-trimmed props, the Falcon will push toward 130 knots cruise, although we couldn’t confirm this. (LSAs are legally limited to 120 knots indicated in cruise flight.)
Ergonomically speaking, we didn’t find much to complain about. The panel, which sits relatively high due to the reclined seating position, places everything easily to hand and the stick rides high between your knees. There’s a set of circuit breakers on a console under the panel, which is quite a stretch to reach. We would prefer these on the main panel.
Chas Perkins told us Renegade is working to improve the canopy seal system and they’ll need to, because it was quite drafty, with a noticeable cold flow from the front and breeze on the back of the neck. That would be welcome in the summer, but not on a cold winter day.
We would deem the Falcon to be as competent as any LSA we’ve examined. It performs at the top tier, out-climbing and out-cruising most of the other airplanes we’ve tried. With a choice of props, a buyer can tilt toward brisker climb for faster cruise or split the difference. That might be a strong selling point for Renegade.
But will the IO-233 draw buyers as well? Possibly, but in our view prejudices against the Rotax 912 being a chainsaw engine are on the wane as these powerplants continue to prove themselves. On the other hand, we like the idea of fuel injection in place of the Rotax’s carburetors and there’s little question that the IO-233’s slightly higher power output (115 HP) gives the Falcon excellent performance.
What most impressed us about Renegade, however, is Doc Bailey’s willingness to take full advantage of the flexibility offered by ASTM oversight. Eliminating the FAA’s burdensome certification rules was supposed to spur innovation and rapidly shorten product development time. In Renegade’s case, this is exactly what happened. In our view, it’s unlikely that anyone would have pursued fuel injection for the O-233 if doing so involved an expensive and lengthy certification process. On that alone, Renegade deserves recognition.