Theres more to Kansas than wheat fields. In the south-central part of the state are massive grasslands, including the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Wichita, in south-central Kansas, is home to factories for certificated airplanes such as Beech, Cessna and Learjet. And northeast of the city, Wichita Gliderport is the home base for the Belite, an FAR Part 103-legal ultralight.
About as minimalist as you can get! But you can fit doors and such for flying in colder climes.
Wiebe believes the last checklist item has been accomplished. I thoroughly enjoy flying it, he said, and that is obvious when you watch him. Meanwhile, over in the next hangar, his LSA is for sale, rarely flown. The Belites mission statement? To be a real airplane experience ultralight-like low cost; to be a pure flying experience that doesnt need any excuses.
When the wings are unfolded, a clevis pin holds the leading edge spar to the fuselage. Reattach the flaperons and youre good to go.
Airframe, Weight and Stall Speed
The airframe that Wiebe sells is a derivative of the old Kitfox Litesame aerodynamics and much the same structureitself related to the two-seat full size Kitfox. The proportions are much the same, the tail shape is much the same, both wings have Junkers-style flaperons, both have folding wings, and the severely undercambered airfoils, reminiscent of pre-WW-I airfoils, are the same Riblett airfoil.
But for Part 103, the two most daunting challenges are weight and stall speed. Wiebe took aggressive measures to address both.
On the weight front, there are two approacheslighten the structure and get credits. On the structural front, there are weight-saving details such as mountain-bike brakes (similar speeds and weight, easy to adjust) and a 125mm Razor scooter tailwheel costing $9. Plus, the Belite can be ordered with a number of options to further reduce weight. These include carbon-fiber mainspars instead of aluminum (saving 12 pounds for $2200). The fuselage can be welded from more expensive steel tubing with thinner walls (4.5 pounds, $800). Standard wingribs are now aluminumthey weigh no more than carbon fiberinstead of wood, saving 2 pounds. For a homebuilt version of the Belite, youll be starting these cost computations at just , 200 for an airframe/wing kit using fully welded components; weld it yourself and save 00.
Vortex generators for stall speed control, and a cap over the tubular spar. The spars are not for storing fishing poles, theyre for storing fly rods. Honest.
The newer control stick brackets are machined aluminum, replacing the older weldments.
Speaking of engines, Wiebe sells three engines for the Belite: The 45-horsepower Compact Radial (thats the name of the manufacturer) MZ-201, the 28-hp Hirth F33 and the 50-hp Hirth F23, derated to 38 hp. Under investigation is a four-stroke engine. But heres the kickeryou can always build the Belite as an Experimental, use all 50 hp, and get a screaming rate of climb. Theres too much drag for a big engine to make much speed difference, but short takeoff and sparkling climb are more fun.
There are three models of Belite, varying only slightly. The basic airframe is called the 254, named after the weight limit of Part 103. If you want to install the 50-hp Hirth F23, which weighs 30 pounds more than the 28-hp F33, you need a lighter airframe to make weight, and that airplane is called the SuperLite. The tricycle-gear airplane is called the Trike, but it cant take the big engine, either. If you want to fly the Belite as an Experimental/Amateur-Built, the maximum empty weight is 300 pounds. To put that in perspective, thats the weight of 50 gallons of fuel. How many airplanes carry that much or more? Maximum gross weight for all models is 550 pounds. A 220-pounder could still fly the Experimental version with the 5-gallon fuel tank full.
On a cold Kansas morning, a bit of ether helps the Hirth two-stroke get started.
Recognize the brake? Its from a mountain bikelight, inexpensive and comparable energy dissipation.
Wiebe then pulled out the SuperLite demo plane and, after a preflight, performed the starting ritual. Elements to rope-starting this engine include chocks for the right wheel, the choke on the throttle quadrant (it looks just like a mixture control), a can of ether to spray in the carburetors and a big bowl of Wheaties for breakfast. It was a workout, but eventually the engine started and all was right with the world, one that Wiebe says really should have electric starters.
A quick test flight revealed a slipping drive belt. Normally, the slippage goes away as the belt warms up, but not this time. Re-tensioning the belt was an easy job, but required two people.
The 15-pound ballistic chute gives you 24 pounds of gross weight credit, 9 pounds more payload. The chute is propelled by compressed air rather than chemicals.
The Belite is a comfortable airplane with plenty of leg- and headroom, and effectively unlimited shoulder roomunless you put in the door and window for winter flying. With the engine started by the faithful ground crew (Wiebe), I taxied to the far end of the gliderport. There wasnt much to do in terms of a runup or checklist and, in fact, the Belite is that nirvana of the fun flier, an airplane with no pre-landing checklist.
The wheels on this Belite are larger (and heavier) than stock, but I wouldnt want to have been on any smaller ones and navigated in the grass, smooth as it was. At the end of the runway, flaps to 10, check for traffic, and throttle in.