The Liberty XL2, a two-place trainer/touring airplane manufactured in Melbourne, Florida, might well be the most eccentric, innovative and downright quirky certified airplane you can buy, and chances are good that even if you have heard of it, you don't really know just how odd and cool it is.
The Liberty embodies several notable contrasts. Perhaps most telling is that it makes use of a number of ingenious design approaches and technological advances-not to be really fast, like a Cirrus or Columbia, but to be simple to fly. I'm reluctant to say that any airplane is easy to fly, because some degree of risk is always there no matter what the wings. But purely in terms of flying manners and ease of operation, the Liberty is the easiest flying airplane I've ever been in, and it offers good performance and utility to boot. How did the Liberty's designers pull off this feat? The way nearly all worthy aviation challenges are overcome: liberal helpings of good luck, calendar time and cash.
Back in the mid-1990s, long before there was a Liberty, I had a chance to fly the airplane that engendered it, the Europa. A kitplane designed by Ivan Shaw in the late 1980s, the Europa was an all-plastic airplane with a mid-wing, a single landing gear on the belly of the beast, like a sailplane, and a wing that a single person could remove and stow in about five minutes' time. My demo flight-I did maybe a quarter of the actual flying-was with the late Pete Clark, an aerobatics champion who wanted to demonstrate to me exactly what the airplane could do, and that included every basic and intermediate aerobatic maneuver I can think of and several others that I didn't know what to call. It also flew nicely in less G-loaded regimes, and while no barn burner, it could do a respectable 115 knots or so with a Rotax 912.
Over the next couple of years the company fiddled a little with the design to make it more marketable, taking a lot of labor out of the kit while adding a tricycle landing gear and boosting the power to 100 ponies. And pilots loved the airplane. To date, Europa has delivered more than 1,200 kits, and it's going strong.