Flying the XL2
I went out to Melbourne, Florida, to visit the Liberty factory and to fly the XL2. Liberty builds most of the parts there in Melbourne, including the composite fuselage, and assembles the airplane there, as well. Even though the XL2 I flew was one of the first Liberty examples, the fit and finish was nevertheless impressive. The interior, with the seats done up in tan leather, is refined, and the finish and fit of the parts is first-rate.
Getting into the airplane requires you to open the door, sit on the front of the wing, swing your legs into the cockpit and then lower yourself in. The operating handbook calls the airplane a "typical" low wing, but it's actually much closer to a mid-wing design. (The wings are removable on this model, though Liberty doesn't promote the feature much.) So getting into it might be a challenge for some older or less nimble occupants, though in all fairness, the same is true for much of the fleet.
Once you're inside, especially with somebody else in the right seat, the roominess of the Liberty is apparent. Forget intertwining your shoulders, like you have to do in a 152; there was a good six inches of space between me and Scott Lurkin, Liberty's chief pilot and director of sales, who flew with me.
Unlike seats on most certified airplanes, the seats on the Liberty are fixed. You use cushions to adjust your height. And the rudder pedals adjust forward and aft on the ground or in flight, to adjust your leg reach. There are no toe brakes, so that makes the foot position easier to manage compared to when you need to move your feet around to manage the brakes.
Seated and buckled up, the windows wrap around you, allowing an absolutely spectacular view out the sides and a good ways back, as well. The big semi-clamshell doors latch at the front-it's easy to get them latched and to ensure that they are. In back, the luggage area is large; there is no external baggage door, though there looks to be enough room to load from the front. Maximum weight in back is 100 pounds, which is a lot more than most pilots realize, and there's easily enough room for a couple of large duffels and more.
The panel is a three-section affair, with the flight instruments and engine gauges on the left side, a separate center stack for the radios and a circuit breaker panel on the right. The engine instruments are shown on a Vision Micro Systems display, situated right beneath the flight instruments, so keeping an eye on the system health is easy.
It's a nice setup as it is. Unfortunately, it doesn't lend itself to flat panels very well, so when that time comes, as it surely will, I'd expect to see a one piece, one-level panel with room for two LCDs. Liberty hasn't announced a glass cockpit vendor yet, but they're open about the fact that they plan to move in that direction sooner rather than later. There's probably no better way to stimulate interest and sales these days than by glassing up the panel. A center console has the throttle, brake finger levers, and fuel selector valve.
Okay, finger brakes. As I wrote when I flew the airplane a few years back, the Liberty has no toe brakes, only finger brakes, one little lever for the left wheel brake and one little lever for the right wheel brake. At that time I thought the finger brakes an odd choice and I predicted that the airplane would get toe brakes by certification. I was wrong. I was also wrong about the finger brakes. They're not hard to use once you've got the hang of them, which means getting comfortable with operating the throttle with your thumb and the heel of your hand, while you use your index and middle finger to work the differential brakes. The maneuverability of the airplane on the ground is nothing short of phenomenal. You can, and we tried this, taxi straight into a spot between two parked airplanes and turn around 180 degrees in that space. Very cool, but you might want to practice the move first without the other airplanes there.