Grassroots aviation is all but dead. This is hardly surprising, considering the expense and bureaucracy associated with modern flying: the cost of the aircraft, fuel and spares, the compulsory maintenance schedules, compulsory annual inspections, pilot’s licence renewals, flight testing, and aviation medical examinations.
Forgiving and easy to fly
To bring flying back to its basics, well-known microlight aircraft pilot and instructor Craig Couzens has designed and built the affordable and safe Nanolite Bumblebee. This fun-to-fly aircraft combines the best of both worlds: the trike and the hang-glider. Although operating on the principle of a single-seater, weight-shift trike, it is easier and more forgiving, thanks to its hang-glider wing specifically designed for thermal flying and turbulence. Legally, however, it only requires a powered hang-glider rating to fly.
Opening up flying to everyone
Conversion to a powered hang-glider is simple and straightforward for a licensed weight-shift trike pilot, involving three hours of flying and three basic hang-gliding examinations. Once the conversion is obtained, the owner can join the Aero Club’s South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (SAHPA). The owner is also allowed to perform all his own maintenance.
Importantly, the Nanolight Bumblebee enables people who cannot pass an aviation medical, to fly legally. Someone who has never flown before can obtain a hang-gliding licence from a certified school, and then complete a powered conversion. A number of microlight and hang-gliding schools around the country are able to instruct a beginner from scratch.
The Bumblebee uses only 4l of petrol/hour and can stay aloft for four hours, with another hour in reserve. It stalls at only 30km/h. Takeoff distance is about 30m. With the powerful front wheel disk brake, a competent pilot can land and stop within 30m. Cruising speed is between 40km/h and 60km/h. This slow speed capability is ideal for farmers, aerial observation, anti-poaching operations, game counting, aerial photography, and of course, flying simply for fun. There is little that can beat the sensation of flying slowly with the time to enjoy the world from above.
Although the wing has been designed for maximum safety and strength, it is still very forgiving and easy to fly. Obviously, as with any aircraft, the Nanolight Bumblebee has to be flown within the limitations of its design and performance parameters, the pilot’s skill and experience, and the weather conditions. As the wing is braced and supported by aluminium struts instead of cables, it can be folded while still attached to the undercarriage. Moreover, the king post and cables above the wing fold down when the wing is folded, significantly reducing the overall height of the plane.
With this design feature, the Bumblebee can be rigged and ready for takeoff in 10 minutes. It also means that it can be transported with minimal effort and stored in a standard garage or farm shed, saving thousands of rands on hangar fees. The undercarriage frame is made from mild steel and the entire undercarriage section, including the motor and propeller, weighs only 50kg. All parts are precision laser-cut and bent, or CNC-machined.
Components are TIG-welded by a coded professional welder and then E-coated. Unlike electroplating, E-coating treats the inside and outside of the tubing to eliminate corrosion. All components are then epoxy-coated for a professional finish and maintenance-free life. The pilot’s comfort was also considered during the planning of the aircraft.The seat is spacious and ergonomically designed, and can accommodate larger people with ease. The pylon has been designed with a curve for maximum headroom. The length of the lower boom can easily be altered during production for a perfect custom fit.
The Bumblebee’s Minari F1-VRFE 180cm³ 26hp two-stroke motor with electric start boasts Italian craftsmanship and quality, and is recognised as the best motor for a single-seater trike. The motor unit with exhaust and electric start weighs only 16kg.
The 20l polyethylene fuel tank behind the seat can be quickly refilled or removed. In fact, the entire undercarriage can be assembled with a few simple tools.
And removing the motor and exhaust unit takes less than five minutes – it requires nothing more than loosening four nuts and a few other parts. Couzens has been testing the prototype for a year and a half and the aircraft is now in production. The Bumblebee won first prize in its category as voted by participating pilots at an airshow at Tedderfield in Gauteng earlier this year.