(May 2011) WOULD YOU believe me if I told you that there is an airplane that can comfortably fly a long IFR cross-country one day, land at a short, challenging backcountry strip the next and splash into a serene mountain lake later the same week? Would the story become more believable if I said you can build this airplane yourself in two weeks and park it in your garage?
You may not believe me, but what I found at the Glasair factory in Arlington, Washington, was just that airplane. A beautifully designed, high-wing, utility aircraft with convertible gear and foldable wings, the Sportsman is a larger, stronger, more advanced version of the Glastar, a popular kit co-designed in the early 1990s by Ted Setzer, current R&D manager at Glasair, and his brother Tom. The Glastar was a real departure from the low-wing speedsters generally coming out of Glasair — a company Tom founded with a couple of friends in 1979 as an alternative to dental school.
With more than 1,000 kits sold, the Glastar became so successful that a German company — OMF Aircraft — decided to put it through the rigorous process of certification. Slightly changed, the airplane emerged as the Symphony 160 in 2001. Unfortunately, that project ultimately failed in 2006, but the Glastar’s versatile design lives on. Returning as a kit, the Sportsman project launched in 2004 as Glasair’s utility airplane. The company simultaneously launched a new builder-assist program. Of 350 Sportsman kits sold, 157 have gone through Glasair’s unique and efficient two-weeks-to-taxi program. More on that later.
What Makes It Special?
I was introduced to N944SP — a bright yellow Sportsman that seemed to shine of pure happiness — by Helen Cernik, one of Glasair’s transition training pilots. Helen explained a couple of details that were new to me. On top of each high-mounted wing, there are two delta-wing vortex generators — one near the fuselage and one about three quarters out toward the wingtip. Just like the small, triangular vortex generators I’m used to seeing, these aerodynamic modifiers contribute to the Sportsman’s docile stall characteristics.
The positive wing dihedral is also quite noticeable during the walk-around, which, of course, makes the aircraft more stable in turbulence. And with the fuel vents being located near the wingtips, a byproduct of the increased wing dihedral is improved fuel venting.
Climbing into the roomy cockpit of the Sportsman is easy with a nice step and big metal bars across the windshield to hang on to. These are part of the chromoly steel framework that serves as the fuselage cage. Two large pins, located behind the top corners of the windshield, connect the forward sections of the wings to the fuselage. This may raise your eyebrows, but there is a good reason for the pins. One of the Sportsman’s unique features is that its wings fold rearward for compact storage or transport.
When the wings fold, the airplane’s center of gravity is shifted way aft, resulting in the need for another special component. At the bottom of the empennage, there is a small wheel that allows the Sportsman to be rolled around like a wheelbarrow.
Today, though, we wanted to use those wings, so we checked the pins and sat down. The seats were designed in-house and are made of memory foam. They are as comfortable as the seats in the Cessna Corvalis, an aircraft I’ve spent many hours in with zero discomfort. While you would be hard-pressed to put two adults in the back (which is why the Sportsman is called a 2+2, two adults and two kids), there is plenty of useful load — about 940 pounds for the 210-horsepower and just over 1,000 pounds with the 180-horsepower engine. And at Osh-kosh 2010, Glasair introduced the Sportsman TC with a carbon fiber fuselage and turbonormalized 180 horsepower with an even more impressive 1,100-pound useful load.
Helen also told me that the flap and wing strut fairings were added in 2010 for an approximate 3-knot speed benefit. And a 145-knot cruise speed on a 210-horsepower bird is quite impressive.
Utility at Its Best
Arguably the most versatile kit aircraft on the market, the Sportsman 2+2 can be flown in three configurations, with no structural changes required. The switch from tricycle to tailwheel is straightforward. Within less than three hours, the highly capable cross-country, IFR bird can be transformed into a backcountry machine. The conversion to floats takes about a day. Seventy-five percent of Sportsman customers purchase more than one gear option, and several have all three.