The designers chose chromoly tubing for the cage for strength and production ease. When properly implemented, steel structures can provide effective crush zones, which make impacts more survivable for the occupants.
Originally, the Liberty was going to be powered by the 100-hp Rotax 912S four-cylinder engine, but the team soon changed direction and went with the Continental IO-240F. (It didn't hurt that the Continental, unlike the Austrian-made Rotax, is built by a company familiar to every U.S. pilot.) The IO-240F is a 125-hp powerplant that features full authority digital engine control (FADEC), hence the "F" designation. The extra 25 horsepower was a plus, as well.
The upgrade to the heavier engine was accomplished without losing any of the 600 pounds of useful load Liberty was shooting for. The team wanted to be able to seat a couple of grown-ups, 80 pounds of bags and full fuel.
FADEC is a real revolution. Instead of fiddling with throttle and mixture, the pilot of a FADEC-equipped airplane can concentrate on other tasks. The FADEC on the IO-240F takes care of both mixture and power at the same time, using a computer to automatically adjust the parameters to their optimum settings while continuously monitoring internal and external conditions. The Liberty has a fixed-pitch prop, but on airplanes with a constant speed propeller, FADEC can control that too. The benefits are decreased workload, better fuel efficiency and longer engine life. What's not to love about it?
The Liberty isn't a true low winger; it's more of a mid-wing, like the old-style Extras. Consequently, getting aboard takes some doing. You sit on the leading edge wing root, slide back, stand up on the wing walk, open the door and then get inside. Liberty plans to add a front-mounted step to simplify the process.
Passenger and baggage loading are done through the big dual gull-wing doors. Liberty got the baggage area right; it can accommodate 100 pounds of luggage, including large parcels like golf bags and oversized duffels. Although loading bags through the passenger space is generally less than an ideal situation, in this case it works fine, as the airplane's spacious interior and high-step wing make the job a lot easier than one might imagine.
The king-size cabin is, indeed, one of Liberty's strongest points. There's so much room inside that I was tempted on several occasions to turn around and check to see if I was actually in a larger, four- or six-seat airplane. On cross-countries, that extra space can make a long trip seem substantially shorter, and that's a real bonus.
The leather-covered seats themselves are quite comfortable, though they are non-adjustable. To accommodate pilots of different heights, the airplane was given adjustable rudder pedals, which the pilot can set up to be just right no matter the height. Another benefit is that in cruise, you can slide the pedals away from you to create some extra room to stretch. (There are, I might mention, no toe brakes to be found; more on that omission later.)
The FADEC requires an unusual set of steps to start the engine. Because there's no mixture control -- remember, one lever does it all -- when the engine's hot you need to use the boost pump to adjust the flow; when it's cold, it's just like starting any other light single. Even though it was my first try and the engine was plenty warm from our recently completed photo flight, I managed to get the airplane started on the second try.