Sport Air Aviation's Corsario delivers wet and wild fun.
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Launching from the softly rippling surface of Lake Seminole in St. Petersburg, Fla., felt slightly like what a stone must feel like after a
youngster's sidearm sling sends it skipping across the water. There's a little bounce, a slight skip, then another. But, unlike the rock, the Corsario two-place skips skyward and climbs smartly away
from the water instead of sinking into oblivion.
As with others of its configuration, the Corsario shows traits that commend it to any pilot as much interested in flying from lakes, gulfs and bays as in frequenting runways on terra firma -- barefoot
or shod. No Johnny-come-lately design, the Corsario is from Microleve in Rio de Janeiro. It first flew in 1982, and the number flying outside North America totals more than 600.
Thanks to a complete kit, an attractive price and decent flying qualities, 10 U.S. buyers have hatched Corsarios in the two years since Sport Air's founder and owner Steve Cohen began importing the
kits. What's more, Sport Air plans to offer both SLSA and ELSA versions late this year to supplement the experimental/amateur-built version.
An Amphib of a Different Nature
Several items on the Corsair stand out as different from the some of the conventions found in other ultralight-rooted designs such as the Aventura II and Buccaneer. Like those, the Corsario employs a
parasol wing ahead of a pusher powerplant over a boat hull with maingear that can be repositioned.
Unlike its contemporaries, however, the Corsario uses tricycle gear. Instead of arcing straight up span-wise, the mains rotate in parallel with the fuselage sides until the wheels are about even with
the top deck; the nosewheel retracts into a well in the nose. (Making the third wheel retractable while moving it from back to front adds a little complexity to transitioning from land plane to
floatplane. More on this in a moment.) Despite its tricycle gear, though, the Corsario still sits on its tailskid when unoccupied, similar to many other pusher designs.
Hard Wing, Good to Find
Another variation from convention may not be as obvious as the gear: the "hard wing." The original Corsario of 1982 used a wing structure of tubular spars, compression ribs and a Dacron covering
fitted with tubular ribs to provide the camber on top and the flat surface of the bottom. Today's Mark 5 variant still employs fore-and-aft tubular spars, but they are tied together with formed
aluminum ribs, a fiberglass leading edge cuff and an overall covering of Stits aircraft fabric. Tail feathers and control surfaces get the same covering and finish.
Anyone familiar with some of the old flying boats and Grumman amphibs may remember throttle levers descending from the overhead of the cockpit into the space between the seats. The Corsario also
sports a lever between the seats and overhead, but this lever controls the flaps. Extending from the chrome-moly steel structure behind and between the cockpit seats is the long lever used to move the
two mainwheels. Pull the motorcycle-like lever to unlock the handle, and the mainwheels swing aft and away from the waterline.
At seat level are two pairs of levers between the seats. From aft-to-front, the first pair is a matched pair for applying the mechanical mainwheel brakes; forward of these is a relatively small
pitch-trim lever next to a longer throttle lever.
Normally, this would end the levers list, but no. There's an additional lever at the front of the console for moving the nosegear. Pull up on the lock and swing the handle aft to stow the gear. The
Corsario also sports a window in the nosegear well so you can confirm its position. While unusual, the Corsario's package of controls works easily.
Inside the cabin is a framework of chrome-moly steel tube that supports the hull, carries the flying loads and controls mechanics. The seats supported me well, and flying the Corsario was a
comfortable experience. The 44-inch-wide cabin easily accommodated one 5-foot-8, 220-pound pilot and one 5-foot-9, 185-pound writer.
The Corsario comes standard with clamshell doors large enough to make entry and exit easy -- even from a slippery dock. Lacking fresh-air vents, the Corsario was flown after owner Phil Klein removed
both doors. Behind each seat resides a 10-gallon fuel tank; behind the tanks is a small luggage space accessible via a clear, top-hinged hatch.
The wide cockpit also means a wide panel, more than 40 inches in the Corsario, which means plenty of space for all the equipment a light amphib needs. The dual sticks are comfortably located; the
centered location of the controls makes access equal from either seat. Barefoot flying kept the experience tactile; neither shoes nor sandals would feel right in this environment.
All the Water's a Runway
Klein was first to get a Corsario in the U.S., and N912PK is now approaching three years old. Before heading out to Lake Seminole, Klein uncovered his plane as I gave it a thorough preflight. The
process is actually simple and straightforward, with hinges, wires and struts easy to see and touch. The linkages are equally easy to check, though pulling the dipstick on the Rotax 912 does require a
ladder, as the hull aft of the engine is a no-step zone.
Beyond the usual checks common to any aircraft, the Corsario requires one other step: checking and running an electric bilge pump that pulls water from the low point of the fuselage. Water can get in
for many reasons in an amphibian of this style. The Corsario has extra sources, including the cables connecting the nosegear to the rudder pedals.
On engine start, the Corsario wants to move on the water, even with only idle thrust, and a water rudder would be an asset for maneuvering, especially in tight spaces. While a little blast of power
generates a swift response from the aircraft when you apply rudder, the power also accelerates the plane, and there are no water brakes.
Once on the lake, taxiing the Corsario was easy to pick up; it responded smartly to the rudder and power, much like a small sailboat in a stiff breeze. Appropriate application of opposite ailerons
kept the Corsario closer to level and prevented the outboard-mounted sponsons from adding their own drag to fight turning.
Lined up into a gentle, westerly wind, the Corsario introduced me to its style of water launch, thanks to the coaching of Klein. The best drill requires full aft stick at the same time you move the
throttle to full. Otherwise, the thrust line of the prop tends to send the Corsario's nose porpoising through the water, an uncomfortable ride that could damage the hull.
With full aft-stick and full power, the Corsario quickly came up on the step. Easing off the aft-stick pressure rewarded me with a smooth departure from the water at less than 50 mph indicated and a
climb of about 500 fpm at 65 mph IAS. Aileron response is excellent, and the stick pressures are reasonable and progressive. The steeper or more aggressive the turn, the higher the pressure required
for the desired response -- as it should be. The Corsario held turns fairly well once established. Carving a perfectly coordinated turn, though, takes a little more than feet-on-the-floor flying. The
Corsario's shallow dihedral is almost enough to generate the natural roll-yaw coupling of other aircraft, but not quite. Leading with the rudder is necessary to start and end with the slip/skid ball
Sampling some shallow, standard-rate and steep turns pointed up the need for the rudder in increasing doses. Despite near full deflections of the pedals, the response was not as quick or as positive
as that of other, similar designs.
Motoring along at a cruise setting of 5000 rpm, trimmed to 80 mph IAS at 600 msl, the Corsario wanted to hold heading and altitude fairly well, despite lumps, bumps and burbles in the air along the
Gulf Coast. But many of those disturbances started the Corsario's tail wagging, which in turn caused the plane to start a shallow roll. Between the yawing tendency and the muted rudder response, it
seems a larger tail, longer fuselage or a combination of the two could be helpful, things Cohen and Klein have discussed with the factory.
Them's the Breaks
Stalls illuminated an interesting conflict in responses between clean and dirty. Clean, the Corsario decelerated nicely, allowing me to keep the ball centered and hold altitude until just before the
stall set in at about 40 mph indicated. This is in line with the published 42 mph, given our flying weight of around 1200 pounds and the usual inaccuracies of the pitot-static system. Just as the
stall set in, the left wing slowly started to fall off, and at the break the nose followed, heading down, all very gently and easily corrected by easing off the stick and applying right rudder.
Altitude loss was maybe 50 feet.
With the two notches of flaps recommended for approach and landing, the airspeed needle wound to 34 mph. And then, with neither advance buffet nor hesitation, the airspeed needle plunged to zero, the
right wing dropped swiftly toward the Gulf, the nose fell through and a right-rotating spin seemed imminent. This was the moment that let me know my lap belt could well be tighter.
A swift push of the stick away from my lap and rapid application of left rudder and power brought the Corsario back to normal flying as if nothing unexpected had happened, albeit 100 feet lower and 90
degrees off my original heading. Klein seemed surprised, but noted he'd not stalled the airplane the same way. Importer Cohen's reaction, when told, was to note that the airplane has a good
reputation, but if that's what it did, that's what it did. He did say that the drill with amphibs generally doesn't include full-stall landings. Nevertheless, this characteristic -- which might be
improved with rigging changes and/or stall strips -- is something builders and transitioning pilots need to be aware of.
When sampling a plane for the first time, my preferred introduction has the demo pilot show me a maneuver before trying my own. See one, do one, learn one. Watching Klein take the Corsario back to a
liquid surface affirmed my expectations that it would act much like other similar designs.
First, when the water is your runway, concerns about the differences between nosewheel and tailwheel landings pretty much vanish. The surprise of my landings came in finding them easier to do and
executed more slowly than expected.
Setting up my first landing on Lake Seminole, I rolled the Corsario onto the downwind track at about 500 feet above water level. Easing back on the power brought a slow pitch-up moment that would have
slowed the Corsario below my desired 60 mph approach speed but for my countering the pitch-up moment with nose-down pitch input. The little amphib tracked well through the aerial chop, descending at
about 500 fpm through 300, 200, 100 feet. When the Corsario dropped low enough to feel ground effect, easing back off the stick and the low power setting rewarded me with a smooth, relaxed touchdown
at about 50 indicated. After a little more than 100 feet or so, we were down to a fast-taxi speed.
Instead of taxiing back I opted to take advantage of more than a mile of open water in front of me. Simultaneously adding full throttle and full aft stick brought the Corsario roaring ahead and off
the water again in a little more than 100 feet. After a climbing right turn to 600 feet, I tried landing again, this time easing onto the water at just over 35 mph and stopping even sooner. Not only
does it feel good to do this air-to-water stuff, it's downright fun.
Don't Forget Your PFD and Oars
With a couple of reservations -- particularly the full-flaps stall behavior -- the Corsario earns high marks for fun, for flying simplicity and for value. For value, about $42,000 gets the plane,
complete with the 912S and three-blade prop, minus avionics.
Other than finishing the panel and painting, there's little to make or buy to ready the Corsario for flight. In what is really more of an assembly process than a building process, a builder could have
one finished in two weeks with, say, 100 hours or less.
Stall practice should help a pilot avoid the rude surprise of the flaps-down experience I had. And practicing taxiing should help a pilot become accustomed to maneuvering around docks, other craft and
in tight places on the water. Even if a water rudder isn't in the near-term future for the Corsario, dealing with the less-than-ample rudder and yawing tendency would take this design from a pretty
decent machine to an excellent one ... we'll see if the factory responds to builder input.
The future could be even brighter for the Corsario as an ELSA and SLSA, which Cohen expects to achieve by year's end. As a ready-to-fly product, the price will be about $60,000, Cohen says.
With a finished, equipped weight of about 700 pounds, the Corsario offers plenty of payload even after taking on 117 pounds of fuel. With a great fun quotient and the flexibility nothing but an amphib
can provide, the Corsario could take two on some fun adventures. For more information, visit the Sport Air Aviation Web site.
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You might be good enough to bend rules, but it could just be luck. What happens when the luck runs out?
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There's something about the typical experienced-pilot's personality that is antithetical to safety. I'm not an expert in analyzing personalities --
though I know what I like -- but it seems the very traits that make someone a "good stick" also make that same skilled pilot a safety risk.
Maybe it's the so-called "God complex" often attributed to surgeons who have risen to the top of their specialty. Maybe it's a blasé sense that, having seen and done everything in an airplane
that's possible to do, nothing "bad" can happen. Maybe it's just an overdeveloped confidence in one's ability, the basic elements of which are almost mandatory for a pilot to possess. Maybe it's just
Regardless, too often the very self-reliance on which pilots can depend is also the trait that gets us into trouble. Those whose role it is to analyze aviation accidents and how psychology and human
behaviors contribute to them sometimes boil all this down to "overconfidence." In turn, overconfidence can result from facing the same challenges before and emerging unscathed. Once the first corner
is cut, pilots are truly on a slippery slope, unable to stop the slide to whatever fate awaits them.
Over a period of time -- whether counted in years or flight hours -- overconfidence can breed contempt for rules, inevitably leading one to bend or break them. After surviving a few bent-rule flights,
the idea that they don't really apply to you -- because you're so good, of course -- becomes the new norm. But what if all that skill and derring-do you believe got you through the earlier close calls
was really just a dollop of luck? What happens when your luck bucket runs dry? Are you really that good, or just that lucky?
There's no way to know how much luck we've been graced in our aviation careers. One thing's for sure: If we depend on it to complete flights, sooner or later our luck will run out. In the meantime, we
can always draw on skill and judgment. On which would you rather depend?
On June 13, 2004, at about 0830 Eastern Time, a Beech Model 200 Super King Air was destroyed when it impacted Big Mountain, near Rupert, W.Va. The Airline Transport pilot and Commercial co-pilot were
fatally injured. Instrument conditions prevailed near the accident site.
The flight departed the Summersville (W.Va.) Airport (SXL) at about 0815, destined for the Greenbrier Valley Airport (LWB) in Lewisburg, W.Va., a great-circle distance of 31.6 nm. The flight's purpose
was to position the aircraft to meet passengers for a Part 135 on-demand charter flight from LWB to Charlotte, N.C. An instrument flight plan was filed for the short flight, which was flown under Part
91, and an IFR reservation had been obtained for the arrival at LWB. This was necessary due to the FAA establishing a Special Traffic Management Program in conjunction with a large event at a nearby
resort. The flight plan was never activated and no radar data was recorded for the accident flight. Instead, the crew was scud running its way to LWB, probably to avoid the lengthy process of
obtaining an IFR clearance, climbing to a minimum IFR en route altitude and flying the approach procedure.
Both crew members were experienced. The pilot-in-command had 10,400 hours, with 1500 hours in the same make and model and 2700 hours were in IMC. The co-pilot had accumulated 2910 hours, with 400 in
the King Air 200; he had 175 hours in IMC.
Lewisburg's field elevation is 2302 feet msl. The airport's reported weather, at 0822, included a ceiling at 2000 feet, placing the overcast at 4302 feet msl. At 0838, LWB's ceiling was at 1800 feet
agl, placing the cloud bases at 4102 feet msl.
The King Air's wreckage was found at an elevation of about 3475 feet msl. A debris path extended about 500 feet, beginning with tree tops all sheared off at the same height, about 60 feet above
ground. All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene and the wreckage was unremarkable.
Research into the King Air's operator uncovered three previous "events," two of which involved Cessna 310s and resulted in fatalities. In the third, the NTSB found the accident King Air had been
repaired for "... some damage when it contacted a tree while in flight ..." apparently while it was being flown by the accident pilot.
The NTSB's report on this accident notes that the FAA inspector overseeing this Part 135 operation was aware of these prior events. However, the inspector failed to initiate any enforcement actions
since, according to the NTSB, "... all of the accidents occurred under ... Part 91," and not when operating under Part 135. Regardless, a few months after this accident, the FAA suspended the
operator's Part 135 certificate.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of this accident as, "The
pilot-in-command's improper decision to continue VFR flight into IMC conditions, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain. Factors were the FAA Principal Operations Inspector's inadequate
surveillance of the operator, and a low ceiling."
It's clear from the record that both the operator and the accident pilot had cut a few corners in their time. It's also clear that FAA surveillance and oversight of this particular Part 135 operator
was inadequate. Whether by luck or design, no paying passengers were involved in any of the resulting accidents.
Obviously, the history of this operator's and this pilot's apparent scud-running, and other questionable operations -- whether under Parts 135 or 91 -- calls into question their collective judgment.
From the NTSB report, we can't tell if this corner cutting resulted from financial and competitive pressures or if this kind of pilot behavior was simply part of the operator's culture. We can,
however, discern a clear willingness to bend and break various basic flying rules.
What led to this kind of behavior? Was it overconfidence, some variation on the "God complex" or just a bad attitude? Could it have been a sense of entitlement, leading this operation to think it was
well-skilled when in reality it simply had a bucket of luck from which it took too much? On your next flight, you get to be the judge.
More accident analyses are available in AVweb's Probable Cause Index. And for monthly articles about safety, including accident reports like this one,
subscribe to AVweb's sister publication, Aviation Safety.