FK's P-51: Innovation that Irritates?
When I was at Aero in Germany in April, one of the head-turner airplanes there was a scale P-51 Mustang LSA proposed by FK Lightplanes. See a video about it here. The reaction to this was interesting to watch and once again demonstrates how pilots love to complain about lack of innovation and then bitch about it when somebody actually does toss out something creative.
Which is another way of saying the reaction to the P-51 seemed polarized. You either loved it or thought it was stupid and should never have been proposed. I say "proposed" because the airplane isn't fully developed and ready for market yet, but when it is, it will be a 70 percent scale replica of the P-51, right down to the rivet patterns in the wings and the belly scoop. No mini-Merlin, sorry. It's got a 100-HP Rotax—probably the iS. Where it caught the ire of many show goers who talked to me is that it also has retractable gear and a constant-speed prop, which are verboten under U.S. LSA rules but may be allowed elsewhere. "Why," asked one Aero attendee "are they putting that stuff on there if they know it's not legal?"
A good point, although as noted, it may be legal in some countries. This is a sore point among some manufacturers who have trouble keeping straight what countries allow what under rules that vary considerably. But that's not the point. The real point is that this is an innovative airplane and my reaction to it is that I'd try to figure out how to make it legal for use in my country rather than getting irritated at FK for stretching the LSA idea envelope to the breaking point. To me, that's what innovation is all about, not lockstep adherence to restrictive rulemaking.
But why is it innovative? It is, after all, a 73-year-old-design. Scale Mustangs are nothing new; there are a couple of P-51 experimental designs out there. But in my view, what's innovative is that FK has used its Mustang to prove some sophisticated production techniques in carbon molding and building that could lead to interesting trends in aircraft production in general. FK gets that the Mustang is just a fantasy ride, which is why they added the smoke at startup and a sound system that mimics a Merlin. They're in on the joke.
But what I found intriguing is where this could go. If the Mustang project is successful, how about an entire line of LSA warbirds? Maybe the F4U Corsair, the Spitfire, the Hurricane or the F6F Hellcat, or Bf 109, all priced as $130,000 or so LSAs, which is where FK thinks the Mustang will sell. What's different—and innovative—is that these could be off-the-shelf products you don't have to build that are perfectly aimed at what LSA is supposed to be: fun sport flying, with a creative twist.
Frankly, I like that. And for my two cents, I'd just as soon like to see the restrictions against retractable gear and constant-speed props for LSAs eliminated. Let the market and insurers sort it out. This will make the safety nerds nuts, but then regulatory oversight is always a balancing act between what the wild-eyed flying public wants and what they're allowed to have to keep from hurting themselves.
Being on the wild-eyed side myself, I'd love to find a way to back that P-51 into my hangar, retractable gear and all.