KITPLANES Feature: Buying a Used Kitfox

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By LeRoy Cook

If you’re looking for a light, fun-flying airplane, you’ll almost certainly want to consider the Kitfox. This iconic little taildragger has been around since 1984, when the original versions were introduced as a step-up from the Part 103 ultralight “vehicles” whose popularity had already begun to fade by the mid 1980s. Providing side-by-side seating for two in an enclosed cabin, the Kitfox offered respectable comfort, speed, short takeoff and landing performance and all-around utility, wrapped up in a sharp-looking package. At this point, over 7000 Kitfox kits have been produced, so one might expect potential for a plentiful supply of used Kitfoxes in the marketplace. You’d be wrong.

That 35-year production run doesn’t necessarily translate into a buyer’s market. John McBean, president of Kitfox Aircraft, says there are very few Kitfoxes for sale; most owners don’t want to give them up unless circumstances dictate. That’s not just a pitch to sell new kits, but rather the common opinion shared by most owners we spoke with. Kitfox builder Josh Esser told us, “You better have your money ready” if you’re looking to buy one, because the two late-model used Kitfoxes he bought after building his own weren’t even advertised when he heard they were available, and he knew he had to put down a deposit right away. As is typical of desirable used airplanes, the good ones don’t last.

The Kitfox is perfect for low-and-slow flying over the countryside.

History

Orginally designed by Dan Denney, the first Kitfoxes were powered by the then-popular two-stroke Rotax 532 and 582 engines of 64 hp. The Kitfox’s distinctive bump cowling, which gave it the look of a miniature Cessna 195, dates from 1986; originally, a small Pong Dragon radial engine was planned for the airplane, but that engine never worked out. A wise marketing move retained the cute round-engine wrapper. Adapted for various powerplants over the years, it continues to be available.

From its beginning as the Kitfox Model I, of which only 257 kits were sold, the design underwent a steady progression of improvements as engine power and gross weight were increased. The Model I had a gross weight of 850 pounds, while the slightly larger Model II, introduced in 1989, had a bigger vertical tail and grossed at 950 pounds; 490 Model II kits were sold. A Model III came along in 1990 with further enlargement of the tail feathers and a gross weight bump to 1050 pounds, allowing installation of the 80-hp Rotax 912 four-stroke engine; some 466 Model III kits were shipped. The definitive Model IV came out in 1991, featuring a new airfoil and redesigned differential-action flaperons that were mounted with metal brackets instead of wood attachments; 322 kits were sold before a follow-on Classic IV version increased the gross weight to 1200 pounds. The IV-1200 incorporated stronger lift struts, beef-ups for the gear legs and wing carry-through, fuselage structural changes and a 30% larger vertical tail. The Kitfox Classic IV remained in production until just recently, giving it one of the longest production runs in kit airplane history.

The clipped-wing Speedster is the fastest Kitfox. This one is a Series 7, but there are earlier versions of the Speedster, too. (Photo: Courtesy of Kitfox Aircraft)

Denney Aerocraft sold the Kitfox design to SkyStar Aircraft Corporation in 1992, setting off a flurry of new model developments. A Kitfox Series 5 design came out soon after the SkyStar acquisition, featuring an adjustable stabilizer for pitch trim and optional aluminum-spring landing gear. The Series 5 was available in a tricycle-gear, swept-tail Vixen model or a conventional-gear Safari version, both designed to accept small Continental and Lycoming engines at a gross weight of 1400 pounds, later boosted to 1550 pounds in 1995. In 1998, the names of the Series 5’s two versions were changed to Voyager and Outback. A short-wing Series 5 Speedster variant was tried as well.

The latest Kitfox cabins have plenty of space to carry two in comfort.

Meanwhile, SkyStar tried producing a Part-103 ultralight, the Kitfox Lite, using a 28-hp two-stroke engine, and it also introduced a Kitfox XL in 1994 and a Kitfox Lite Squared in 2001; both were two-seaters designed to be ultralight trainers, using a 50-hp Rotax 503 two-stroke engine. A Kitfox Series 6 was brought out in 2000, with a conventional cowling rather than the faux radial engine nose and featuring standard spring main gear rather than bungee shock absorbing. A Kitfox Series 7 followed in 2002, incorporating a larger elevator and improved roll control. The Kitfox Series 6 and 7 offer convertible landing gear configuration that can be switched from tailwheel to nosewheel and back, if desired.

Kitfoxes have always called southwestern Idaho home, in the area around Boise; the plant was originally sited at Nampa and is now located at Homedale’s airport. In April 2006 the rights to the Kitfox designs were purchased by John and Debra McBean, who are the current owners of Kitfox Aircraft, LLC. Production is now primarily focused on the Series 7 designs, with the Kitfox Classic IV presently on hold.

A glassed-in turtle deck/baggage area brings light into the cabin and adds to the perceived spaciousness of the Kitfox.

Design

There is a vast difference between the Kitfox airplanes of the 1980s and the kits designed in the last 20 years. Some seekers of used Kitfox airplanes have in mind one of the original designs, a diminutive fabric-covered tailwheel airplane with the bump cowl, Junkers-style external flaperons, folding wings and bungee-sprung landing gear. While the basic design features remain, the more recent, sleeker Series 5, 6 and 7 Kitfoxes are much more capable airplanes. The structure of the fuselage, tail and lift struts is made of 4130 chrome-moly steel, factory welded, while the ladder-style wings incorporate 6061-T6 tubular aluminum spars reinforced by an aluminum I-beam insert, with the airfoil shaped by wooden ribs. The trademark external flaperons are built of aluminum-wrapped foam cores or ribs. All Kitfoxes feature foldable wings for compact storage or trailering. Flaperon and elevator controls utilize 4130 steel pushrods, while the rudder is cable actuated.

A powder-coated fuselage frame became available in the early 1990s, which forestalled much of the corrosion threat of aging steel. The Kitfox’s small-diameter tubing did not lend itself to the sloshing of anti-corrosion oil through the framework because each section of tubing was sealed off from its mates. The earliest Kitfoxes had aluminum firewalls, rather than stainless steel.

The Kitfox’s chrome-moly frame can be powder-coated for corrosion protection.

As with most light airplane designs, the Kitfox has evolved into ever-improved iterations over the years. Accordingly, you should look for the latest example you can find, and it’s important to bear in mind the condition issues that could be wrought by 20 to 30 years of history. The Series 5, 6 and 7 are the best choices, with a cabin width of 43 inches. If considering the older models, I wouldn’t advise looking any further back than the Model IV-1200, because of its increased useful load, differential-action flaperons and larger tail. If you have limited or no tailwheel airplane experience, look for a Kitfox that has dual brakes installed, which makes tailwheel instruction much less risky.

The flying characteristics of the Kitfox series are typical of airplanes in its weight class; John McBean says his Series 7 can “take on crosswinds that would leave Cessnas crying.” That said, the older airplanes, weighing less than 1000 pounds, are susceptible to even the lightest breezes and subtle wafts of updrafts and downdrafts. Penetration of turbulent air is not on par with more streamlined and heavier airplanes, calling for ultralight-style flying technique during a landing approach, which means maintaining some energy in the aircraft by carrying power right down to ground level and staying ready to go around if the wind burbles become unmanageable. Fortunately, it’s usually easy to find a 500-foot long patch of friendly grass oriented into the wind, which makes much more sense than trying to stick an early Kitfox onto an unyielding strip of pavement contaminated by crosswind component.

This older Model IV has the classic Kitfox bump cowling and is powered by an 80-hp Jabiru 2200. (Photo: Amy Laboda)

Assuming an 80-hp Rotax 912 engine installation, the Kitfox is a good 100-mph-plus cruiser, with a stall speed as low as 32 mph that enables short takeoff and landing distances. As always, engine/propeller configuration and setup can cause variations in performance numbers from builder to builder. The wing area of 132 square feet gives a wing loading of only about 9 pounds per square foot. Wingspan is 32 feet, overall length is 18.5 feet, and the three-point tail height is just under 6 feet. Even without wing folding, required storage space is relatively small.

Even VFR Kitfoxes can have plenty of electronics to make flying easier.

What to Look For

If purchasing a flying Kitfox, as with any E/A-B airplane, look for complete paperwork, including a log of Phase 1 flying time and the airplane’s operating limitations that were issued at the time of certification. The latter is required to be on board for flight. Evidence of a condition inspection within the last 12 months will be necessary, or one will have to be performed before the airplane can fly.

John McBean says the most important advice he gives is to get the serial number of the airplane and check it out by contacting the factory to make sure you know what you’re getting. He cites examples of a purported Model IV-1200 (according to its builder-supplied ID plate) that was actually a 1050-pound version and a Kitfox Model III that was being sold, with modifications, as a Model IV. He stresses to get the builder’s manual with the airplane, and if it’s been lost, to obtain one from the factory. When you call the factory for assistance, it helps immensely to have the manual’s references for the items under discussion, rather than saying “I need that widget that moves the aileron (flaperon).”

The latest Kitfoxes can be switched from tricycle to conventional landing gear and back again. In either configuration, the visibility is outstanding.

Engine Options

The earliest Kitfoxes were most likely to have been fitted with two-stroke Rotaxes, and as the design matured into the Model III and IV the four-stroke Rotax 912 became the engine of choice. Other lightweight engines used have been the Jabiru, Subaru, and a whole host of similar engines have found their way onto the noses of Kitfoxes. The newer Series 7 Super Sport can be fitted with a Rotax 912ULS, turbocharged Rotax 914/915, Continental O-200, Lycoming O-233 or Titan O-340.Even the Rotec R-2800 radial has been grafted onto the Kitfox Series 7, with a nod to the original cowling design.

The Rotax 9-series engine is the most popular choice for Kitfox builders.

Values

Given the scarcity of available used Kitfox airplanes, pricing will be subject to the seller’s eagerness to dispose of their plane. Expect to pay $100,000 or more for a nice Series 6 or later, down to as little as $20,000 for an old Model I or II that’s still flyable but needs TLC. It follows, as always, that you get what you pay for, based on condition, equipment and history.

Among the many different engines available for the S7 Super Sport is the 110-hp Rotec R-2800.

Support

Fortunately, the Kitfoxes are not orphans. According to John McBean, factory support is available for all Kitfox models, as much as possible. However, through the years and ownership changes, some tooling and parts for the older airplanes were unfortunately discarded. The TeamKitfox web community is an excellent forum for Kitfox builders, owners and pilots.

With its high-lift STOL wing, 180-hp Titan 340 engine and 29-inch Alaskan Bushwheels, the S7 STi is a highly capable backcountry performer. (Photo: Paul Dye)

In Summation

Whether you’re interested in exploring backcountry airstrips at 120 mph or indulging in low-and-slow cruising during the smooth-air hours of the day, you’ll find the Kitfox to be perfectly suited to your mission. Of all the Experimental kit airplanes that have come and gone through the years, it remains one of the most attractive options. The problem will be finding an owner willing to part with their pride and joy. Fortunately, you can solve that by simply ordering a Series 7 kit and setting to work building your own.


Kitfox Through the Years

Denney Aerocraft produced the first Kitfox kit in November, 1984. Since then, over 7000 Kitfox kits have been shipped to builders in more than 40 countries. Here are the highlights of the different models.

Model I

Designed by Dan Denney, the original Kitfox Model I is a lightweight, two-place aircraft with a gross weight of 850 pounds, typical empty weight of 426 pounds, and typical useful load of 424 pounds. Usually powered by a 64-hp Rotax 532, the Model I cruises at 65 knots and stalls at 31 knots. From a flying standpoint, the Model I feels very similar to an ultralight. Controls are light and the rudder exhibits a neutral yaw condition; if you push the rudder to yaw the plane, it will stay yawed. You usually have to move the rudder with your feet to bring the nose back to center.

Model II

Introduced in 1989, the Kitfox Model II is a bit faster and stronger than the Model I. The spars were strengthened, allowing an increase in gross weight to 950 pounds. Typical empty weight remained at 426 pounds, resulting in a useful load of 524 pounds. Flying-wise, the Model II feels quite similar to the Model I, even though the vertical tail surfaces were enlarged to accommodate wing tanks and the Rotax 582 engine. Average cruise increased to 74 knots and stall speed remained at 31 knots.

Model III

With the Model III, introduced in 1990, structural changes allowed builders to use larger engines, including the 80-hp Rotax 912. Once again, in an attempt to improve the yaw control issue, the vertical stab and rudder were enlarged. Other structural changes included larger, stronger lift struts and spar carry-through tubes. Gross weight of the Model III increased to 1050 pounds, with an empty weight of 460 pounds and a useful load of 590 pounds. Average cruise speed remained at 74 knots, and stall speed increased ever so slightly to 32 knots. Handling characteristics are similar to earlier Kitfox models.

Model IV-1050

Introduced at Oshkosh in 1991, the Model IV was a completely new aircraft. It features a higher-speed, laminar-flow airfoil, an updated flaperon design and a completely different aileron system that improves control with full flaps and reduces adverse yaw. The vertical fin area remained the same as the Model III, but it was still too small. While yaw stability was no longer neutral, it was not aggressively positive. Gross weight is 1050 pounds, the same as the Model III.

Model IV-1200 (Classic IV)

Also introduced in 1991, the Model IV-1200 was the final evolution of the original Kitfox design. Heavier lift struts, gear legs and spar carry-through tubes allow a 150-pound increase in gross weight, to 1200 pounds. Empty weight is typically 650 pounds, with a 550-pound useful load. Cruise speed varies with engine, but is typically around 95 knots. Stall speed is 32 knots. On the Model IV-1200, the height of the vertical stab and rudder was increased 10 inches, and the rudder depth was increased by 2 inches, finally bringing yaw stability to a contemporary feel.

Series 5

In June, 1992, SkyStar Aircraft Corporation purchased the rights to produce the Kitfox from Denney Aerocraft. Almost immediately, the company began work on a larger version of the Kitfox that would be able to use Continental and Lycoming engines, in addition to the Rotax 912 series. Although it looks similar to a Model IV, the Series 5 is a totally different clean-sheet design. It’s not just a modified IV. Available with either tailwheel or tricycle gear, it had a gross weight of 1400 pounds when it was first introduced in 1994. This was increased to 1550 pounds in 1995. Cabin width for the Series 5 is 43 inches. Yaw stability is positive, and handling characteristics feel similar to a certified aircraft. That’s to be expected, since the Series 5 was actually designed to meet Primary Aircraft certification standards.

Series 6

In January, 2000, work began on the Series 6. Essentially a refined Series 5, the Series 6 has a heavy-duty landing gear that replaces the bungee/tube gear used on the Series 5. The flap system was also improved. The Series 6 has a useful load of up to 800 pounds and cruises at about 104 knots.

Series 7

Since April, 2006, Kitfox Aircraft LLC has held the rights to the design. The latest version is the Series 7 Super Sport, which is available as a kit or ready-to-fly SLSA. Firewall-forward packages are offered for all Rotax 912 series engines and the 915 iS, Lycoming’s IO-233 and O-235, Continental’s O-200, IO-240 and Titan X340, and the Jabiru 3300. There’s also a radial engine that fits under the round bump cowl: the 7-cylinder, 110-hp Rotec R2800. The Series 7 easily converts from tricycle gear to taildragger and vice versa. Like all Kitfox aircraft, it has folding wings.

S7 STi

The S7 STi is a “STOL inspired” version of the S7 Super Sport. The key difference is a modified wing featuring vortex generators, mid-wing fences, wingtips with fences, and greater wing area. The end result is a substantial increase in short-field performance. With the 180-hp Titan X340, takeoff and landing roll are typically 100–150 feet, rate of climb is over 2000 fpm and stall speed is 32 mph. Cruise speed is as much as 127 mph, but this will vary depending on prop pitch. By comparison, the standard S7 Super Sport with a 100-hp Rotax has a 290-foot takeoff roll, 270-foot landing roll and 1000-fpm climb rate. Stall speed is 41 mph, and cruise speed is 120 mph.

S7 Speedster

As its name implies, the Speedster is the go-fast member of the S7 family. With its clipped wing and streamlined wing struts, landing gear and wheel fairings, cruise speed is 130 mph with a 100-hp Rotax 912 iS. Climb rate is over 1200 fpm, and stall speed is 47 mph. — Mark Schrimmer


Owner Feedback

Scott Noble’s Kitfox 7 Super Sport

Scott Noble “In 2012 I ordered my Kitfox S7 Super Sport. Six months later, my kit arrived and I started my Kitfox adventure. After one year and four months, I made my first flight. The build was fun, but my flying adventures have been even more exciting. I’ve taken my Kitfox all over the Northwest, landing on river bars and backcountry strips. The Kitfox is a great backcountry plane with a broad flight envelope and great load-carrying capacity. My favorite mission is to load up my camping gear and head to the Idaho backcountry. Last spring I took a trip to southern Utah, landing at Happy Canyon, one of many strips to explore in the area. My Kitfox easily hauls full fuel, two people and all the camping gear that I have needed. Some planes can fly slower or fly faster, but it would be hard to find another plane that efficiently beats the broad flight envelope of a Kitfox. My plane stalls at 36 mph and cruises at 118 mph with a 100-hp engine burning 4 gallons per hour. “I would find it hard to part with my Kitfox, but some planes do come up for sale, then sell quickly. With social media, a broader audience is seeing the value in Kitfox aircraft. Log onto TeamKitfox.com and start reading the new threads for a while, and you will get a feel for the Kitfox community. It is a fantastic part of owning a Kitfox. You will be surprised at the help offered by members of this community. You may even be able to buy a used Kitfox if you ask the question.”

Shawn Hoenshell of Peculiar, Missouri, is just now finishing up his Kitfox Model IV project, and he’s looking forward to trailering it around the country for low-and-slow sightseeing wherever his travels take him. He has enjoyed the project, finding it straightforward in most regards. He discovered a rudder pedal beef-up service bulletin that needed compliance, something that should be checked if considering purchasing an early SkyStar-supplied Kitfox. He also found that a different material was used in the later-production fiberglass fuel tanks to better tolerate auto fuel with alcohol content. His kit’s tanks are only recommended for no-ethanol fuel.

Raymond Peters of Bayfield, Wisconsin, has owned his nice 1989-built Kitfox Model I since 2009 and considers it a great little single-person airplane. “The Model I fuselage is a little narrow for two people,” he says, but he’s added a window ledge/armrest that makes it more comfortable. After a landing gear bungee cord broke due to its age, he installed the wider spring gear rather than replace the shock cords, and he also installed hydraulic brakes for better handling. Peters favors four-stroke engines over two-stroke ones, and his plane is fitted with a 62-hp KFM-112 four-cylinder engine from Italy (no longer in production) that he has been very satisfied with. His Kitfox was built with two wing tanks rather than the single header tank, giving it plenty of endurance.

Brian O’Neil’s Kitfox Series 7 near the Grand Tetons. (Photo: Scott Noble)

Brian O’Neil “The first piece of information I can share regarding buying a used Kitfox is one you’ll probably hear from several sources. The market is very hot, so you’ll need to be ready to move on a purchase. Sellers don’t need to accommodate buyers’ demands right now. You can’t wait to find the right plane before you figure out how you’re going to pull the cash together and arrange a prebuy inspection. You would do well to have someone on standby who’s qualified to perform a prebuy inspection, ready to go take a look as soon as you see something on the market you like. “The second piece of information I’ll share is that when you buy a Kitfox, whether a kit or a used aircraft, you buy into an amazing community. I’m convinced that no other airplane brings people together like the Kitfox. The level of support you’ll get from the factory and other builders/owners is second to none.”

Steve Kellander (right) with DAR Ted DeSantis.

Steve Kellander “I own TeamKitfox.com, a forum-based website for Kitfox builders and owners to come together and share building tips and travel adventures, and sell and buy parts, kits and completed Kitfox aircraft to other enthusiasts. Since its inception in 2008, the main focus of the forum has been to promote the building of safer aircraft and pilots. With almost 7500 registered members and growing every day, it is the best online place to find answers to questions about every model of Kitfox from the Model I through the current Series 7 Super Sport. It is a great resource for new Kitfox enthusiasts to educate themselves on any model they may have an interest in. “I have been flying Kitfoxes since purchasing my first, a Model III, back in 1998. Since then I have built two: a Model IV and a Series 7 Super Sport that I just completed. If you are not educated enough to scrutinize build quality on the Kitfox model you are considering purchasing, take along someone who is.”

Frank Julian of Kansas City, Missouri, built his Kitfox Model IV in 1997 and considers it “a perfect little airplane.” He still has the Rotax 582 oil-injected two-stroke engine in his IV, which has proven to be entirely satisfactory for his purposes.

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