Flight Test: Breezer

In a sleek, eco­nom­i­cal mi­cro­light that per­forms more like a thor­ough­bred cer­ti­fied aero­plane

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words Dave Unwin Pho­tos Keith Wil­son

A mi­cro­light it may be, but the Breezer is a hand­some all-metal, fac­tory-built ma­chine, of­fer­ing 115kt max cruise for just 18 lit/hr fuel burn. A few nig­gles, but over­all a nice air­craft with be­nign han­dling

“Hear you’ve been fly­ing a mi­cro­light”, the club bore guf­fawed. “Can’t say the idea of fly­ing a hang-glider pow­ered by a lawn­mower en­gine has ever ap­pealed, m’self!” I didn’t say any­thing, just showed him a photo of the sleek, flame-red speed­ster on my iphone. “That’s not a mi­cro­light,” he ex­claimed. “Oh yes it is,” I re­torted (in full panto mode), “and it takes off quicker, climbs bet­ter, cruises faster and goes fur­ther on cheaper fuel than that clunky old banger that costs you £120 an hour to rent! Oh, and it han­dles bet­ter too!” In fact, I could

read­ily un­der­stand his con­fu­sion: modern mi­cro­lights have been clos­ing the gap with ‘tra­di­tional’ GA types such as Cess­nas and Pipers, and this one is def­i­nitely a proper aero­plane.

The Breezer has been around for a while−the pro­to­type made its maiden flight in 1999 and it en­tered pro­duc­tion two years later. How­ever, when fit­ted with a Ro­tax 912 (clearly the pre­ferred en­gine), it was al­ways go­ing to strug­gle to be a vi­able mi­cro­light in the UK, which at the time had a weight limit of 450kg. So an empty weight of, say 265kg would mean that, with your Ed­i­tor and me aboard, there would only be about five kilo­grams left for fuel, which is just enough to get you into trou­ble but not to get you out! Con­versely, in the USA it was mar­keted in the Light Sport Air­craft (LSA) cat­e­gory− which al­lows a max­i­mum all-up weight of 1,320lb (599kg)−and sold well.

Many Euro­pean mi­cro­light man­u­fac­tur­ers and op­er­a­tors quickly con­cluded that 450kg just wasn’t vi­able, then a leg­isla­tive ‘fudge’ was in­tro­duced that al­lowed an in­crease in the MAUW to 472.5kg if a Bal­lis­tic Re­cov­ery Sys­tem (BRS) was fit­ted. In­ter­est­ingly, most BRS units weigh around 10kg, thereby al­low­ing an in­crease in the use­ful load of about 12kg. Now, if you usu­ally fly a legacy two-seater such as a C-152 or HR200, an­other twelve ki­los of fuel may not sound like very much, but in an air­craft such as the Breezer it trans­lates into about 140nm!

It’s a beau­ti­ful win­ter’s day when I ar­rive at Con­ing­ton, and the air­field is a ver­i­ta­ble hive of ac­tiv­ity, which is great to see in the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate. You can’t beat a crisp win­ter’s day for bring­ing pi­lots out to play! UK Agent, Roger Corn­well ar­rives bang on time and af­ter a quick cof­fee I wan­der out for a closer in­spec­tion. This is the first Breezer Roger has im­ported, and his com­pany As­cent In­dus­tries is mar­ket­ing it as a fac­tory-built ready-to-fly mi­cro­light, although he’s al­ready con­sid­er­ing mar­ket­ing it in kit form, both as a mi­cro­light and a 600kg VLA (Very Light Air­craft). Ap­proval is ‘im­mi­nent’.

Of all-metal con­struc­tion, the Breezer is cer­tainly quite a hand­some ma­chine. From the tip of the sharp-pointed spin­ner to the top of the swept-back fin it doesn’t look like a mi­cro­light. It also ap­pears to be very well made and nicely fin­ished. No prizes for guess­ing that it’s pow­ered by a Ro­tax 912 (in fact the 100hp ULS ver­sion) driv­ing a Wood­comp three-blade ground-ad­justable pro­pel­ler. I say no prizes be­cause at first glance you might think it does have an air-cooled en­gine, as it has four sep­a­rate air in­takes. The cowl­ing is se­cured by a lot of Dzus fas­ten­ers, although a good-sized hatch in the top of the cowl­ing pro­vides ac­cess to the oil and coolant. The en­gine is fed by a sin­gle 76-litre fuse­lage tank im­me­di­ately in front of the cock­pit, with a BRS 6-1050 unit in­stalled be­tween it and the en­gine. The prox­im­ity of the filler to the wind­screen re­quires care while re­fu­elling to avoid­ing any gas spilling on the screen or the noz­zle strik­ing it in­ad­ver­tently− Roger ad­mits he uses an old towel to pro­tect the Per­spex.

The air­craft is en­tirely con­ven­tional in both de­sign and con­struc­tion. It has a mono­cocque struc­ture, cov­ered with riv­eted sheet metal skins. The fuse­lage, wings and tail unit are all made from Cnc-ma­chined high grade alu­minium, with fi­bre­glass tips on the wings and tail.

The con­stant-chord wings fea­ture mass-bal­anced dif­fer­en­tial ailerons and me­chan­i­cally-ac­tu­ated plain flaps that to­gether take up the en­tire trail­ing edge. The flaps have a greater span but smaller chord than the ailerons, and four set­tings: ‘0’ (up), ‘1’ (15°) ‘2’ (25°) and ‘3’ (43°).

The walka­round re­veals sev­eral small but in­trigu­ing sur­prises, the first be­ing elec­tric aileron trim. Ini­tially I thought this was a lit­tle OTT for a VLA but Roger ex­plained that, as all the fuel is car­ried in

The walka­round re­veals sev­eral small but in­trigu­ing sur­prises, the first be­ing elec­tric aileron trim... OTT for a VLA?

the fuse­lage, dif­fer­ent cock­pit load­ings could not be trimmed out by fuel use (as can be done in aero­plane fit­ted with wing tanks).

The un­der­car­riage com­prises GRP main wheel legs and a steel-tube nose strut. The nose strut has shock ab­sorp­tion and damp­ing pro­vided by a stack of rub­ber ‘dough­nuts’ in com­pres­sion, and the whole unit steers through the rud­der ped­als. All three wheels are cov­ered by snug-fit­ting spats, and the main wheels carry hy­draulic disc brakes. The swept back fin car­ries a large rud­der fit­ted with a ground-ad­justable trim tab, while the con­stant-chord tailplane car­ries con­ven­tional sep­a­rate el­e­va­tors. Both el­e­va­tors and rud­der are horn-bal­anced, although the big sur­prise is the el­e­va­tor trim tab−it’s ab­so­lutely enor­mous! Even with­out fly­ing it, I could clearly see it was far too big, and Roger as­sured me that all sub­se­quent air­craft will have a tab ap­prox­i­mately half the size.

Ac­cess to the cock­pit is from the front of the wing via large steps. I think these

could eas­ily be hinged so that, as soon as the en­gine starts, the air­flow would blow them up. They’d be slightly heav­ier but the drag re­duc­tion would more than out­weigh this.

The big canopy slides back a long way, mak­ing get­ting in and out very easy, although a post be­tween the head­rests would pro­vide a use­ful hand­hold, as well as a place to hang the head­sets. There is a pair of head­set hold­ers (in the canopy roof, be­hind the latch) but be­tween the seats would be bet­ter. At 116cm the cock­pit is pretty wide and also of­fers plenty of leg room. The seats are fixed and, although the rud­der ped­als do ad­just, they only have two po­si­tions. Cush­ions can of course also be used, but I think an in­ter­me­di­ate set­ting would be help­ful. The con­trol col­umns are S shaped to avoid foul­ing the seat squabs when the sticks are fully aft.

Once strapped in with the four-point har­ness I be­gin to ac­quaint my­self with the gen­eral cock­pit lay­out. Ini­tial im­pres­sions are good; it’s un­clut­tered and neatly laid out with all the con­trols and in­stru­ments easy to see and reach. Closer in­spec­tion, how­ever, re­veals a few is­sues. Firstly, I don’t un­der­stand why the ASI and al­time­ter are elec­tronic. They seem un­nec­es­sar­ily com­plex, while the ASI’S odd de­sign (about a third of the dial’s cir­cum­fer­ence is blank) means that the scale ex­pan­sion is poor for the ana­logue pre­sen­ta­tion. Nor do I like the ro­tary com­bined mas­ter/starter switch, while the choke lever is too big and the more im­por­tant fuel se­lec­tor too small.

The cock­pit is pretty wide and also of­fers plenty of leg room... Ini­tial im­pres­sions are good

All the flight in­stru­ments are on the left of the panel, while the en­gine gauges (ex­cept for the tachome­ter and fuel pres­sure) and the clock are on the right, along with the switches, cir­cuit break­ers and a good-sized glove box. A sub-panel ex­tend­ing down from the cen­tre of the in­stru­ment panel car­ries the throt­tle, choke and fuel valve, with the T-han­dle for the BRS di­rectly above. I didn’t like its lo­ca­tion and wasn’t sur­prised when Roger said he tends to leave the safety pin in as it does rather look like a brake han­dle. (In­ci­den­tally, it’s about time the var­i­ous BRS man­u­fac­tur­ers got to­gether and set­tled on a stan­dard colour for the ac­tu­at­ing con­trol−i’d sug­gest black-and-yel­low stripes.) The ac­tual brake han­dle is lo­cated in a con­sole be­tween the seats and dou­bles as the park­ing brake, toe brakes be­ing an op­tion. A ‘John­son bar’ for the flaps is lo­cated along­side the brake lever. The bag­gage bay is ex­cel­lent; it is of a good size, can carry up to 20kg and is ac­ces­si­ble in flight.

Slid­ing the canopy closed brings a slight dis­ap­point­ment, as in flight it only locks open ap­prox­i­mately 10cm. I never un­der­stand why, hav­ing gone to the time and trou­ble of mak­ing a canopy slide, some man­u­fac­tur­ers don’t en­able it to be opened a rea­son­able amount in flight. Roger ex­plained that the cur­rent stop is a tem­po­rary mea­sure, and felt that there’s no rea­son why it couldn’t open quite a bit more, although its part-open po­si­tion is pri­mar­ily de­signed to help keep the oc­cu­pants cool dur­ing a long taxi on a hot day. I feel quite strongly that be­ing able to open it fur­ther would en­hance its ap­peal. The test air­craft had the op­tional in­te­gral sun­shade, and this is an op­tion I’d cer­tainly ex­er­cise as it’s a very big bub­ble.

Taxy­ing confirms my ini­tial im­pres­sions: this is a very straight­for­ward ma­chine to

oper­ate. The field of view is ex­cel­lent, the nose­wheel steer­ing nicely geared, and the brakes smooth and pro­gres­sive. Reg­u­lar read­ers will be aware that I pre­fer a steer­able nose­wheel and toe brakes, but if I must com­pro­mise a steer­able nose­wheel and a hand­brake are more ac­cept­able than a cas­tor­ing nose­wheel and toe brakes− par­tic­u­larly for light­weight air­craft. As the Breezer has a hand­brake I was pleased to note that the throt­tle springs were not as pow­er­ful as on some Ro­tax-pow­ered ma­chines I’ve tested. (On the Euro­fox and Eurostar, for ex­am­ple, they’re down­right dan­ger­ous, mak­ing it im­per­a­tive that the throt­tle fric­tion is wound right up.)

Roger has care­fully cal­cu­lated his flight plan and fuel burn be­fore set­ting off and re­fu­elled ac­cord­ingly. Thanks to this, and a typ­i­cally glut­tonous Christ­mas, we’re less than a kilo be­low the 472.5kg MAUW, although the cold crisp air and high pres­sure mean that the den­sity alti­tude is well be­low sea level. The only neg­a­tives are the very gen­tle ninety-de­gree cross­wind from star­board and the fact that the ground-ad­justable prop has been pitched for the cruise.

For the first take­off Roger says to use Flap 1, which seems some­what un­nec­es­sary to me. We have al­most a thou­sand me­tres of tar­mac be­tween us and the hedge and I very much doubt if we’ll need even 20% of the TORA (takoff run avail­able). Nev­er­the­less I do as in­structed and we’re off the ground and climb­ing away at over 1,100fpm af­ter a very short ground-roll, cer­tainly less than 200m. The take­off per­for­mance is more than ad­e­quate, and if the prop were pitched for the climb the per­for­mance would be truly stel­lar!

Less than a kilo be­low the 472.5kg MAUW... we are off the ground in less than 200m

We’ve taken off in trail be­hind a Con­ing­ton Fly­ing Club Cessna 152 car­ry­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Keith, and it’s im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent that the Breezer out­per­forms the el­derly Amer­i­can on ev­ery level. It’s also a per­fect day for an air-to-air shoot. The cold, calm, dense air is so thick and sta­ble that it al­most feels as if we’re driv­ing across a frozen lake, while the sur­plus of power, crisp han­dling and su­perb field of view make hold­ing for­ma­tion ex­tremely easy (and trust me, that’s not al­ways the case!) I can hon­estly say that I’ve not en­joyed a pho­to­shoot so much in ages; although I al­ways en­joy them ret­ro­spec­tively, at the time they’re quite of­ten ac­tu­ally hard work. We soon get all the pic­tures in the can and, with all the qual­i­ta­tive stuff also noted (a good for­ma­tion ses­sion soon re­veals any han­dling de­fects), I set­tle down to record some quan­ti­ta­tive data.

As Roger has al­ready ex­plained that the prop is pitched for the cruise I’m cu­ri­ous to see how fast the Breezer will go, so I level out at 3,000ft, open the en­gine right up and keep trim­ming for­ward. Just as I’d ex­pected, that el­e­va­tor trim­mer is way too pow­er­ful! The speed takes a while to build, as the ac­cel­er­a­tion is quite slow, but even­tu­ally the ASI set­tles on 113kt at 5,350rpm, which is an im­pres­sive TAS of 116kt for a fuel flow of around 18 lit/hr. I cross-check the speed by fly­ing on re­cip­ro­cal head­ings, not­ing the ground­speed on the GPS and then av­er­ag­ing them out. Although the en­gine sounds quite ‘busy’ at this set­ting, it’s well be­low the METO (max­i­mum ex­cept take­off) of 5,500rpm and should in the­ory run at this set­ting all day. How­ever, a far more eco­nom­i­cal power set­ting is around 4,500rpm, which still gives around 90kt IAS while burn­ing about a third less fuel.

With the tank filled with 76 litres the still air range (plus VFR re­serve) is over 520nm, while the en­durance is cer­tainly greater than mine (even though the seats are very com­fort­able and there’s an op­tional heater.) One point that might be worth bear­ing in mind is that, as the fuel is car­ried for­ward of the cock­pit, the C of

G goes aft as fuel is con­sumed. And as the bag­gage bay (which can carry up to 20kg) is be­hind the cock­pit, this could pos­si­bly pro­duce a well-aft C of G at the end of a long flight, although Roger as­sures me that dur­ing some pretty ex­treme test­ing the han­dling had re­mained sat­is­fac­tory, even with the C of G right at its aft limit.

As the for­ma­tion fly­ing has re­vealed no un­sat­is­fac­tory char­ac­ter­is­tics with the han­dling, I move straight on to the sta­bil­ity checks. The well-pro­por­tioned fin and rud­der have al­ready in­di­cated that both lon­gi­tu­di­nal and di­rec­tional sta­bil­ity should be pos­i­tive and well­damped, and this proves to be the case. Lat­er­ally it’s ‘weakly neu­tral’.

I would say that the Breezer’s de­sign mission is prob­a­bly aimed more at the tour­ing mar­ket as, although the han­dling is cer­tainly sprightly enough, it’s not as re­spon­sive as a Euro­fox, for ex­am­ple.

Slow­ing down to ex­am­ine slow flight takes a while (again, prob­a­bly due to the coarse-pitched prop) but on the plus side the Breezer proves to have a sur­pris­ingly shal­low glide. Stalls are a non-event. Whether power on or off, flaps up or down, turn­ing or straight and level, or any com­bi­na­tion of the above. The stall re­ally is ex­tremely be­nign, with sub­tle but dis­cernible buf­fet and no ten­dency to drop a wing. The low­est in­di­cated speed I see (in a de­par­ture stall with Flap 1 and plenty of power) is in the re­gion of 23-24kt, but I sus­pect there’s more than a bit of po­si­tion er­ror at such high al­pha. (Roger would sub­se­quently con­firm that the ASI was un­der-read­ing slightly at the slow end of the speed spec­trum.) The con­trols con­tinue to work ef­fec­tively in the stall.

A closer ex­am­i­na­tion of the best climb speed proves quite in­ter­est­ing, as there is sur­pris­ingly lit­tle dif­fer­ence whether you climb at 50kt or 70kt, the best rate of climb av­er­ag­ing out at around 1,000fpm. Per­son­ally, I pre­fer seventy, as the deck an­gle at fifty re­ally is quite steep, im­ping­ing on the for­ward view. The only item left on the flight test card is to ex­am­ine the land­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics and these rapidly prove to be as sat­is­fac­tory as the rest of the Breezer’s flight en­ve­lope. I par­tic­u­larly ap­prove of the fine field of view, and the only thing that slightly marrs my en­joy­ment of a fine ses­sion of cir­cuits is the pro­cliv­ity of one of the other lo­cal air­craft to fly gi­gan­tic ‘bomber’ cir­cuits. I know that Con­ing­ton used to be a Boe­ing B-17 base but you don’t have to pre­tend you’re fly­ing a Fortress!

Any­way, the Breezer is a very tractable air­craft in the cir­cuit, and is very easy to land. The flaps pro­duce plenty of drag, mean­ing you can keep the speed up un­til short fi­nal (so as to mix in eas­ily with faster traf­fic) and then close the throt­tle, drop all the flap (once you’re be­low the slightly low Vfe) and bleed the speed back. Around fifty ‘over the hedge’ is plenty, and that still pro­vides a good mar­gin above the stall. In gusty con­di­tions a bit more speed wouldn’t hurt, but I’d ad­vise against com­ing in much slower as the Breezer doesn’t have a lot of mo­men­tum and (in com­mon with all light air­craft) is ad­versely af­fected by gusts.

A flap­less take­off con­vinces Roger that, when tak­ing off from long, con­crete run­ways, this is prob­a­bly the way to go,

while a flap­less land­ing is still sur­pris­ingly short, bear­ing in mind the al­most to­tal ab­sence of head­wind. I want to try a cross­wind land­ing−the demon­strated cross­wind com­po­nent is just twelve knots and I feel that this is quite con­ser­va­tive− but there just isn’t any wind to speak of.

What’s the ver­dict?

Over­all, I’d say it’s a very be­nign air­craft, the only pos­si­ble ‘gotcha’ (and one it shares with many LSAS) be­ing the low-ish Vfe. When on fi­nal, you need to en­sure you’re be­low sixty knots be­fore se­lect­ing Flap 3, and if you de­cide to go around (and un­like many older air­craft, it will do this eas­ily with full flap) you must get the flaps up a bit sharpish. Of course Vfe is with the flaps set to 3 (43°) and for most sit­u­a­tions Flap 2 (25°) is ad­e­quate.

While de­brief­ing over a cof­fee in Con­ing­ton’s club­house Roger could tell I was im­pressed−and I must ad­mit that I was! Whether as a trainer or tourer, the Breezer would be equally at­trac­tive to both pri­vate own­ers and as a club air­craft. I even liked the colour. Of course, there’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment, and the big­gest en­hance­ment (for me at least) would be to ex­tend the canopy’s range of travel when it’s open in flight. Roger is cur­rently in­ves­ti­gat­ing this−although he’s not sure it will go to my pre­ferred op­tion of around a me­tre. The elec­tric ASI and VSI seem un­nec­es­sar­ily com­plex (although they are lighter), and I’d junk the head­set holder on the canopy and re­place it with a post be­tween the seats which would also dou­ble as a hand­hold when get­ting in and out. The aileron trim and co-lo­cated LED trim in­di­ca­tor are cur­rently mounted ver­ti­cally, which is counter-in­tu­itive. They should (and will) be changed to a hor­i­zon­tal lay­out. Fi­nally, I re­ally don’t like those com­bined ro­tary mas­ter/starter switches.

Of course, this is the first Breezer Roger’s brought in, so many of my sug­ges­tions may well be in­cor­po­rated. I just hope they find a way to make that canopy open a lot fur­ther!

The Breezer’s canopy can be cracked open four inches or so in flight

The per­fect day for an air-to-air shoot — and an air­craft whose sur­plus of power and crisp han­dling make it all ex­tremely easy

The Breezer is blessed with very ef­fec­tive flaps, even if they are only fully de­ploy­able at rather a low Vfe (flap lim­it­ing speed)

You can at least taxi with the canopy slid back, but the open­ing is re­stricted in flight

An un­usual de­tail: mesh grilles pro­tect the in­takes from in­sects and nest­ing birds

GRP main un­der­car­riage bow pro­vides spring­ing

Plain flaps drop all the way down to 43˚

Aileron mass bal­ance weights pro­trude un­der the wing

Beau­ti­fully made and fin­ished, the Breezer air­frame sports some re­fined aero­dy­namic de­tails

While the oil and coolant level in­spec­tion hatch is a bonus, hav­ing the filler cap so close to the wind­screen risks dam­age while re­fu­elling

Sprightly enough, but less ag­ile than its stable­mate the Euro­fox, the Breezer is aimed at the tour­ing mar­ket

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