Alaskan Bushwheels are one of the most ubiquitous backcountry and off-airport mods available. They’re popular for good reason: The rugged, low-pressure tires provide a huge footprint and increased flotation, enabling operation on soft, loose surfaces such as sand and gravel. Many pilots lower their tire pressure to the single digits to provide an exceptionally plush dose of shock absorption over particularly rough surfaces.
Available in several dimensions to suit single-engine aircraft of most sizes and weights, Alaskan Bushwheels also elevate a taildragger’s nose, protecting the prop from rocks and vegetation during backcountry adventures. When paired with a Baby Bushwheel from Airframes Alaska, a taildragger can be equipped to tackle even the most demanding terrain.
Hartzell Trailblazer Propeller
One easily overlooked opportunity to improve backcountry and STOL performance is the propeller, and even the most powerful engines can be handicapped by a prop that’s older and well-worn. The Hartzell Trailblazer is one way to solve that.
Introduced in 2014, the Trailblazer has become one of the favorite propellers among backcountry and bush pilots, and it’s been approved on more than 20 aircraft applications. Featuring carbon-fiber construction to maximize thrust and minimize weight, it is claimed to save approximately 7 pounds compared to equivalent two-blade aluminum props, while providing a 12 percent reduction in takeoff distance and 10 percent increase in climb rate. To optimize the Trailblazer for harsh backcountry operations, Hartzell has equipped it with a field-replaceable nickel-cobalt leading edge, which protects the carbon fiber from erosion and wear.
Micro AeroDynamics Vortex Generator Kit
Whether your goal is to reduce your aircraft’s stall speed for STOL operations or increase the effectiveness of your control surfaces, a vortex-generator kit from Micro AeroDynamics offers a number of benefits with virtually no downsides.
Complete kits consist of a row of small aluminum fins that are glued to the upper surface of the wing behind the leading edge. Additional VGs are installed on the vertical and horizontal stabilizers. By energizing the boundary layer, the airflow clings to the surface and improves control authority, particularly at low speeds. Benefits vary by airframe, but most single-engine types see an 8 to 10 percent reduction in stall speed, and the increased rudder and aileron authority provide improved control in crosswinds.
Sportsman STOL Wing Cuff
Safety and performance go hand in hand during STOL operations, and one of the best-kept secrets to enhancing both is the Sportsman STOL kit manufactured by Stene Aviation.
Consisting of a drooped leading- edge airfoil extension, aileron gap seals and composite wingtips, the Sportsman adds almost 4 square feet to the wing area of most single-engine Cessnas. By almost doubling the mean camber, it greatly increases the amount of airflow over the upper surface of the wing.
The result? Operators report noticeably reduced stall speeds as well as reduced takeoff and landing distances. Stalls are described as “nonexistent,” amounting to a gentle mush without a break or wing drop. Aileron authority is maintained at high angles of attack, and there is no noticeable reduction in cruise speed.
Brighter is better in terms of making your airplane more visible to others around you, and today’s selection of LED lighting is more effective than ever. LED landing/taxi lights from AeroLEDs can be easily configured to pulse alternately or flash together, greatly increasing visibility to others in daylight conditions.
In addition to making an aircraft more visible to other pilots, studies have also shown that the use of pulsing landing lights results in a significant reduction in bird strikes compared to static landing lights. Requiring no additional components or modules, this feature is integrated in all AeroLEDs landing lights, and the drop-in bulbs make installation quick and easy.
AmSafe Seat-Belt Air-Bag System
Slide behind the wheel of a car from the 1950s or ’60s, and the lack of air bags quickly becomes evident as you note the bare metal dashboard and protruding switches. But while many of us fly airplanes built in the same era, we needn’t subject ourselves (or our passengers) to the same hazard.
AmSafe manufactures the State of the Art Restraint System seat-belt air bag for more than 500 Part 23 aircraft models. The system is universally adjustable and utilizes existing anchor points to simplify installation. Designed to protect occupants of all sizes from instrument panels, glare shields, flight controls and other hard objects in the cabin, the airbags are neatly integrated into the lap-belt portion of two- and three-point restraint systems. Best of all, AmSafe was able to reduce the price of the system by approximately 50 percent in 2018, putting enhanced safety within reach of more aircraft owners than ever.
Check out more: 2020 Flying Buyer’s Guide
Studies have shown that half of all midair collisions occur in the traffic pattern during daytime VFR conditions. When regularly changing headings, the sun becomes a moving target that can quickly render other traffic invisible. It is, therefore, critical to be able to quickly and easily block the sun with minimal effort. For more than 30 years, Rosen has manufactured durable, robust and precise sun visors that, in most cases, can be installed in minutes.
The machined aluminum hardware holds up to decades of abuse, and the visors themselves are translucent, controlling harsh sunlight and glare without blocking your vision. Offering visor installations for over 100 different aircraft types ranging from Luscombes to Gulfstreams, Rosen makes it easy to control blinding sunlight and improve safety.
TKS Ice Protection Systems
In-flight icing is a concern to any pilot flying in wintry conditions, and an ice protection system can provide an additional layer of safety in addition to peace of mind. CAV Systems manufactures TKS ice protection for both inadvertent icing encounters and flight into known icing, and the system is compatible with more than 100 aircraft model variants from seven different manufacturers at this time.
The systems pump noncorrosive fluid through porous-titanium leading edges on the airplane’s wings and also distribute the fluid onto the windscreen and propeller. Unlike deice boots, the design maintains natural laminar flow over the wing, clearing ice from the chord of the wings and aircraft frame, and the system lasts the lifetime of the aircraft with only minimal maintenance required. The added capability provides a safe exit from unforecast and unavoidable icing conditions, and the FIKI systems provide pilots with the ability to legally launch with ice in the forecast.
Knots 2U Gap-Seal Kits
In the pursuit of speed and aerodynamic efficiency, every little bit counts, and gap-seal kits from Knots 2U are an easy way to shed residual bits of drag from your airframe. Available for many Cessna, Piper and Beechcraft models, the aluminum gap seals fill in the spaces between the flaps and wing. This smooths the airflow along the lower wing surface and creates a barrier between that higher pressure and the reduced pressure on the upper wing surface.
Knots 2U claims most aircraft types will gain 3.5 to 5 knots in cruise speed, and some—such as the PA-32 series—are said to gain a 100 to 150 fpm increase in rate of climb, as well as a slight reduction in stall speed.
Power Flow Exhaust
At the most fundamental level, there are two ways to increase the speed of an airplane: by reducing drag and by increasing power. Power Flow Systems Inc. addresses the latter with exhaust systems that provide significant performance increases.
Power Flow describes its exhaust systems as “bolt-on horsepower” and offers them for a wide variety of aircraft. Benefits vary by model, but customer testimonials report takeoff rolls that are 100 to 300 feet shorter, rates of climb 100 to 300 fpm higher, and an additional 5 to 7 knots of cruise speed. When speed is less of a priority, a return to your original cruise speed can result in a 0.5 to 1.5 gph reduction in fuel burn as compared with the original exhaust system.
Whelen Aerospace Technologies Cowls
Engine cowlings are complex assemblies, tasked with optimizing internal airflow to properly cool the engine while also minimizing internal and external drag. Recognizing that most cowls were designed many decades ago without the aid of computers, LoPresti Aviation (now Whelen Aerospace Technologies) saw an opportunity to refine a number of cowl designs and now offers improved cowls for eight different aircraft models.
These cowls provide speed gains of 3 to 13 knots, and additional benefits come from more-efficient engine cooling that effectively reduces oil, head and induction-air temperatures.
Certain models integrate modified cowl flaps, and others reduce cockpit noise levels by smoothing the transition between the cowl and windscreen, resulting in much-improved performance over stock cowls.
This story appeared in the November 2020, Buyers Guide issue of Flying Magazine