Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Love of my life - Storm Century 5XL

Well not actually the love of my life...that's reserved for a beautiful woman. But if there's an aircraft above all others then this is it. This aircraft is why you need a hangar with room for two: one spot for the Zlin Savage Classic and one for the Century 5XL. That way you can happily fool around on little tiny strips and riverbeds in the Classic and then travel long distances at 125 knots in comfort with the 5XL. What could make a pilot happier?
Stormaircraft srl is based in Sabaudia, Italy. They've been building aircraft for 20 years or more. They have two main lines of aircraft - the Century (used to be called the Storm) which is low wing, all metal and the Rally high wing, composite.
The Century 5XL is the big daddy of them all. In Italy it is flown in 2+2 configuration - 2 small seats behind the front seats to hold the children. In Australia it flies as an LSA with a MTOW of 600kg and a large baggage area behind the seats. Baggage capacity is 75kg. For an LSA the 5XL is a big aircraft. It's 40cm longer than the standard Century and the wings are longer as well. The outcome is an aircraft that has the capacity to do a genuine 120 knots indicated at sea level and true out in the high 120s at 5,000'. Combine that with a fairly benign stall around 35 knots and you have an aircraft that's fast but easily manageable.
Getting in is easy - climb onto the wing root - avoiding the flaps and standing on the designated area, put your inboard leg straight across and onto the place it lives on the cockpit floor. Then rest on the cockpit side whilst you move your inboard hand down onto the structural bar visible between the seats, bring your outboard leg onto the cockpit floor and slide in.
This is a big persons' aircraft. The seats only adjust in rake - if you are taller you can rake the seat back, if shorter then make it more upright. However at their standard setting they accommodate from around 5' 2" to 6' 5" with a cushion if you are at the lower end of that range. The rudder pedals have extensions so that you can shorten the distance to your feet. Shoulder room is great. The throttle and choke are on the centre console between the seats, as are the brakes, the fuel taps, the Hobbs and the headset jacks. Behind the seats is a massive cargo space, you could fit just about anything imaginable - including golf sticks. Just make sure you obey the 75kg limit.
The instrument panel is divided into 3 with the primary flight instruments to the left, comms in the centre - along with the prop controller if fitted, and the engine instruments to the right. Visibility is excellent, you are sitting right over the spar and you can see through an arc of over 270 degrees horizontally.
Unlike some LSA aircraft the 5XL seems like a "big" aircraft, however it's very agile on the ground and has a very tight turning circle - even without the optional toe brakes. The main gear is a set of solid aluminium legs and the nose gear is on an arm with bungees.
The standard engine is a Rotax 912ULS and this aircraft has the performance to warrant a variable pitch prop. The engine installation is very clean with lots of room between the engine and firewall. Access is through a pair of hinge up doors down either side of the cowling.
Sitting at the end of the strip the view is great and as you open the throttle the all-flying stabilator comes to life in your hand (fixed horizontal stabiliser is also available). The aircraft accelerates very quickly and is not at all busy. You need a little right rudder, but not much. First stage flaps are used for takeoff. As you approach 40 knots you gently lift the nosewheel off. This is where you'll likely get your first surprise: the 5XL has extremely light control feel in all axes and the controls are very sensitive. This is a very responsive aircraft and it will punish over-controlling. Climb out is at 60 knots with a climb rate around 1000fpm. The deck angle isn't as steep as many LSAs and visibility is good. Cruise climb is in the 70-90 knot range.
Turns require very little rudder and the roll rate is very impressive. If you want to do your fighter emulation then this is the aircraft. Va is 90 knots and needs to be respected given the roll rates that can be achieved. The aircraft is easily manageable in the turn with very little back pressure required. Stalls are pretty benign, a single finger on the stick is all that is necessary. As the aircraft slows it remains very stable, at the approach of the stall you get a very slight buffet and the break is very benign with wing drop basically absent. Stall speed is as low as 35 knots depending on configuration.
The 5XL comes into its own in the cruise. Set up and going somewhere TAS of high 120s knots is achievable at 5,000'. The aircraft really eats up the miles and is incredibly stable compared to some other LSAs. It's a great aircraft for going somewhere. Just remember to wear your sunhat and sunnies - it can get bright under the big bubble canopy. There's 100 litres of usable fuel and the burn averages around 18 lph. So that gives an endurance of around 4.75 hours plus ample reserves. At 120 knots that's a still air distance of 570nm plus reserves. Nice going.
Returning to the circuit the biggest issue is getting the 5XL slowed down. Vfe for first stage is 85 knots and for full flaps it's 75 knots. Downwind is flown at around 90-100 knots, approaching base leg you go full fine on the prop and this really helps to slow the aircraft; then as you turn base you slow the aircraft further and take first stage flaps. The flaps are electric and on presets so it's one flick of the button for first stage. The aircraft feels very controllable and manageable once the prop is in fine pitch and the flaps are out.
Many LSA aircraft don't present a stable platform for the pilot. They seem to be in constant motion - they are light and have little inertia. The 5XL is a much more stable platform than most. This makes the landing phase easier than many expect. Ideally you select full flaps as you turn final and then it's just a matter of holding the aim point and maintaining an approach speed of 60 knots. Over the fence at 55-60 knots and then into the flair. The speed will fall to around 40 knots (if you're watching!!) as you settle. Everything is very stable and manageable.
The POH lists takeoff roll on an ISA day at SL, nil wind and a sealed strip as 110 metres at MTOW. For the same conditions and 32 degrees flap you get a landing distance of 160 metres. Both of those are about right. Neither of those distances are super short but they are real distances and in line with the type of aircraft. The aircraft is very much at home on everything from sealed strips, to grass, dirt and gravel.
Just as a side note the POH for the 5XL is a comprehensive document, particularly in the area of performance data. Many POHs for LSA aircraft are nothing like so comprehensive.
If you want an aircraft that allows you to travel long distances at good speeds with big loads of gear then this is an aircraft you should seriously look at. It's also a real pilots' aircraft - it will bring a smile to the face of anyone who really loves flying.

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