Article in PFA magazine - June 1996

S.T.A  Jabiru G-OJAB

Having built and flown my Evans VP1 "Le Plank" for ten years with a VW 1600 engine, I have enjoyed flying "CW" all over the UK and Europe.

Over the past eighteen months my Dad, Ted Edwards and Raymond Cuypers have been building three Tipsy Nipper Mk.3 aircraft which we hope to see at Cranfield 96. Ted and I both have hundreds of hours flying reliable VW powered machines, but we wanted something "More" for the Nippers. We have had enough hand swinging and battery charging so a Starter and Alternator were on our list. We have looked at various engines but they were either too heavy, two stroke or too expensive. Some were even built from used car engines as the manufacturer did not agree with aircraft use. Too many new engines seemed to rely on high RPM and reduction gear boxes to achieve propeller RPM, these engines must wear out more quickly and burn more fuel. We were struggling to find an alternative to our trusted old VW's when my Dad spotted an advert in his Cranfield 95 complimentary copy of Trade A Plane, promoting a four stroke eighty horsepower flat four engine that weighed 123 Lbs (56Kg) including starter, alternator, exhaust, silencer, ram air cooling ducts and oil. My immediate reaction was "Seems too good to be true, must be all hype". Well, he convinced me to send off for details. When they arrived I was impressed to see a well designed engine that was designed, manufactured and Certified in Australia. With its small dimensions, Direct Drive, starter, alternator, ram air cooling ducts, exhaust and silencer the engine weighed only 123 Lbs (56Kg) and was much more affordable than many other options.

Several PFA friends looked at the specification and agreed that it was designed how we would like it. It transpired that Jabiru produced their Australian CAA Certified composite two seat aircraft and used the KFM engine from Italy. Having got 28 aircraft operating mainly in flying schools KFM went out of business. Jabiru had a major problem, having invested a lot of time and money in developing these certified aircraft they now had no engine. They also searched the market and were not happy with Rotax or any others. The two Directors had worked on design and development of the worlds most advanced sugar cane harvesters for many years, and had much engineering design experience. They decided to slow down aircraft production and design and develop their own Aero Engine to meet their exact needs - no compromises such as gear boxes or used car engines. This has led to a new engine that is perfect for use in many aircraft types.

My company has been looking to diversify for some time and the Jabiru Engine and Aircraft looked like an ideal opportunity to set up an aviation division. At the end of November I was invited to visit Jabiru to discuss UK distribution. I arrived at Bundaburg, Queensland, the aircraft stopped on the apron and the door opened, the heat was immediate at 32°C. As I stepped off the aircraft it was just like a Hollywood film, a small glass terminal building set in palm trees

"Absolute Paradise". Bundaburg is famous for its Rum and Sugar, it is also the pioneer aviator Burt Hinkler's home town so has a well established aviation history.

Within minutes of arriving I heard a different sounding aircraft taking off, it was quiet and sounded very smooth. To my delight it was a Jabiru fitted with a 80 HP engine, the rate of climb was very good and cruise looked impressive. I spent Sunday relaxing in Bundaburg and was very keen to get started on my review of the Jabiru.

On Monday morning I arrived at Jabiru and was greeted by Phil and Rodney the joint managing directors. After some pre-amble it was time to take a close look at the Jabiru aircraft. First Impressions: It looked good, a two seat high wing aircraft, very curvaceous and pretty. Basically a very cleaned up Cessna 152 for the nineties. The Jabiru is an all composite tricycle undercarriage Certified factory built aircraft in Australia, and is available as a kit in other countries. There is no discrimination between factory and kit components, all are manufactured under stringent CAA audits of manufacturing and quality procedures. The Jabiru is fairly unique as a kit aircraft built within a certified environment.

The cockpit is very roomy, with plenty of room for two broad pilots, and is well laid out with a spacious instrument panel. The control column is centrally based with the trim lever just forward of it in the centre console. The throttles are unusually positioned between the legs in front of the seat "sounds strange but easily comes to hand". The brakes are operated by a single lever also in the centre console. The fuel tank is positioned behind the seats in clear view making quantity verification very positive. The three stage flap lever is above the pilots left ear similar to some Auster models.

Moving outside reveals snug fitting cowlings that are quickly removed by releasing two pins and lifting off. "No excuses for not doing an engine visual very regularly". Removal revealed a jewel of an engine the Jabiru 2200 Aero Engine, a very well thought out 80 HP four stroke horizontally opposed engine. "It is what I have been looking for in a aero engine for the past thirteen years, its light, compact, good power output and fully equipped with starter, alternator, Ram Air Cooling Ducts, exhaust and silencer that make this a very quiet engine (Noise Certificate 62 dB). As you would expect there is a vac pump option. The Jabiru is a quality Certified engine and is affordable. "Lets just say I was impressed".

The walk around revealed a strong sleek aeroplane that I was eager to fly. The composite structure has resulted in light curvaceous airframe that is very resilient and strong. During the pre-flight inspection you can raise the wheel by lifting at the wing tip. Getting into the Jabiru was easy, the door swings wide open and the height is such that you sit on the seat sideways and slide in with just your legs to lift. The seating is semi-reclined and very comfortable, you immediately realise how much room there is in the cockpit. The design of the cockpit was simple, Phil and Rodney are both quite big blokes so they placed two office chairs next to each other with a two inch gap, sat in them and then measured the total width and added two inches for good measure. All controls come easily to hand and the arm rest in combination with the central control column makes for relaxed flying. The view over the nose was very good as was all round vision. It had been some time since I had flown a high wing and nose wheel aircraft but I quickly felt comfortable in the Jabiru. The engine started easily and was very responsive to throttle inputs, first impressions "very smooth running and quiet". Taxiing was easy with direct linked nose wheel and brake lever in the centre consul, the parking brake is a simple cam that you flip over whilst applying the brake.

Power and pre take off checks complete we lined up, opening the throttle we accelerated quickly and were airborne in around 100 metres and climbed away at 1000 FPM with an outside air temperature of 32 Degrees Celsius. We quickly levelled off at 2500ft and headed out towards the coast, the aircraft seemed very stable considering the turbulence. Rodney then passed the controls over and I explored its handling characteristics which were well harmonised. Trimmed out the Jabiru will fly hand off all day, this was impressive for such a small aircraft, Rodney suggested that I try a turn using rudder only with no other control inputs. I was amazed that she did a 30 degree banked turn in balance with no height change hands off, he then suggested closing the throttle with no control inputs and see what happens, the aircraft flew straight and commenced a steady decent at 600 FPM. Applying full power also caused no directional change and we commenced a steady climb hands off. This level of stability left me feeling that the Jabiru was a very well designed aeroplane that if a pilot inadvertently got into bad weather they should be able to turn around and get out of it safely. The approach and landing is conventional and the wing down technique is used in a crosswind. The Jabiru undercarriage is very rugged and the aircraft is stable on the ground even at the cross wind limit.

The 80hp Jabiru cruises at 105 knots using between 13-14 litres per hour making it very economical to go places. In fact this equates to 47% of the cost of taking a Cessna 150 on the same trip. With a 100 Metre Take Off run and 265 Metre Landing roll the Jabiru will operate from almost any strip. Australian owners operate these aircraft from bush dirt strips, on business and for commuting.

A popular use is flying off to some quiet beach and going fishing, a few weeks before I visited someone landed on a beach within ten minutes of the tide going out rather than one hour, the sand was like mud and the aircraft nosed over. The rescue crew righted the aircraft and only pride was hurt, the following day two Jabiru engineers flew to the beach and removed the cowlings, propeller and air filters. They then performed a run out check on the crank shaft, fitted new prop and air filters and test run the engine. An airframe inspection revealed no more than scratched paint on the fin and the aircraft was flown home, this shows how strong and resilient composite aircraft can be. When the Jabiru was designed the Australian CAA did not have much composite design experience and so insisted upon a design Factor of Safety of 2 being used rather than the usual 1.5 FoS. Later when the aircraft was complete the CAA revised their composite FoS to 1.5 as per other construction techniques, perhaps it is this extra in-built strength that makes the Jabiru so resilient.

It was interesting to spend a few days at the factory studying the construction techniques and testing procedures. The aircraft is built as a certified production machine and there is no discrimination between these and kit components. The Australian CAA inspects the factory around every six weeks and can demand engine strip down checks of their demonstrator engine. Vast files of paperwork were a testimony that every aspect of the Jabiru has been properly designed and tested as you would expect from a Certified aircraft. The climate in Bundaburg is ideal for composite construction with temperature in the thirties and bright daylight conditions. Most of the composite work is done at the factory thus reducing the exposure to resins and much new learning. The wings are moulded skins with a foam core and composite spar full height. This is an advanced construction technique and as a result the factory join the wings under very controlled conditions. The fuselage is pre-moulded in two halves, top and bottom utilising joggle joints. The builder has to fit out the two fuselage halves and then perform a simple joining operation, once the joint has been rubbed smooth the fuselage is mounted onto its undercarriage. The cockpit is then fitted out, windows fitted and controls installed. The tailplane and fin have to be fitted to the fuselage and joined using a composite technique. The rudder, elevator, ailerons and flaps are fitted and control cables are run through and connected up. Being composite the base colour for the aircraft is white with some colour stripes to the fuselage sides and wing tips. The factory chooses to use Acrylic paint as it is less toxic than some paints commonly used, and requires less specialised respiratory equipment to use it, I tend to agree with this way of thinking.

The firewall has to be fitted and the firewall forward attachments hung on the front, then the engine mount is bolted on and the engine is fitted. Engine installation is very simple as you only have to connect the throttle, choke, fuel line to the pump and plug in the electrics. Then hook up the "carby heat" (Australia speak) and you're ready to run.

With exception of the instruments and radio, Jabiru make nearly everything for their aircraft including the engine, propeller, wheels and brakes thus controlling the quality of components, supply chain and price. Aircraft kits have been sold as far afield as USA, New Zealand and Korea. The kit is sold as an easy build advanced kit and includes all airframe parts, engine, VFR flight instruments, in fact everything except upholstery (patterns included) and paint.

The Jabiru is used for flight training by flying schools around Australia, and they have found that it has dramatically reduced the cost of flying lessons. By 1997 the Jabiru production aircraft will also be certified to European JAR/VLA allowing UK Flying Schools to operate this economical modern aircraft bringing flying lessons within reach of many more people.

Kevin Pearce