Preflight is different in the Liberty because you have to run through the fadec checks before each flight. The checks essentially ensure that the fadec system is working properly before you go flying, which makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, the items are all pretty standard.
On takeoff the rudder comes alive as soon as you advance takeoff power, or in fadec terms, go to WOT (wide open throttle). The airplane tracks easily and liftoff is more like a levitation than a rotation. You really don't need much runway.
Control forces are light, but very pleasingly so, and the big stick gives all the power you'd ever need and then some. Climb performance on a warm winter day at sea level in Florida was excellent, and I kept the airspeed indicator at 80 knots, as Scott suggested, which gave us better than book numbers on rate of climb, which is advertised as around 700 fpm. It's a good climber, especially compared with its now-out-of-production kitplane predecessor.
Inflight visibility, as I mentioned, is excellent, and as we leveled off for cruise and I retrimmed the airplane, it accelerated at high cruise power right to its top-of-the-green 125-knot indication. Liberty lists a 130-knot max cruise speed once the airplane gets new wheel pants and an upgraded prop.
The Liberty is pretty fast, but it's also capable of getting really slow. The book stall speed with full flaps is just 39 knots indicated, though the manual recommends coming in at no slower than 65 knots until the flare on a short field landing, 26 knots over the stalling speed. It seemed fast to me.
Helping the airplane achieve its low, low stalling speeds are the long-span slotted flaps. There are two settings, 20 degrees or 30 degrees. On approach, I found that setting up a stabilized approach was easy (helped at least in part by the smooth and predictable response of the fadec engine). Landing the airplane was straightforward, and it handled the gusty crosswind the day we flew without complaint.
As a cross-country airplane, the XL2 is quite capable. It has a fine useful load, around 600 pounds, an excellent full-fuel payload of better than 400 pounds, and 28 gallons of fuel in the fuselage tank, which with the fuel-efficient Continental IOF-240, delivers about a 500-mile no-wind range with reserves. And it's IFR certified, so you can fly for transportation with a high degree of confidence that you'll be able to make your destination on a regular basis.
As of this writing, the company has only delivered a handful of Liberty XL2s. It hopes to get 114 or so out the door in 2006. Now that it's certified, orders for this little big airplane are building. The company says that it's up to more than 130 orders, with those split quite evenly between orders from flight schools and private individuals looking for a fun-to-fly runabout useful, one imagines, either to go visit the grandkids when they live too far away or to escape for awhile when they're too close to home.
With a cost of just less than $180,000 fully decked out, the Liberty isn't as cheap as the company had projected even a couple of years ago, and at its current price it might face sticker shock from customers who will look hard at spending a little more and getting a new four-seater. Then again, the operating economies of the XL2, with its fadec engine and 5.5 gallon-per-hour fuel burns, are tough to beat, too.
What the future holds for the XL2 remains to be seen, but the good news for Liberty is that what it's looking to sell is a capable, comfortable and versatile airplane that's both economical and fun to fly. It's hard to think of a better place to begin a journey.