Flight Test: Breezer M400
- Credit: Archant
In a sleek, economical microlight that performs more like a thoroughbred certified aeroplane
“Hear you’ve been flying a microlight”, the club bore guffawed. “Can’t say the idea of flying a hang-glider powered by a lawnmower engine has ever appealed m’self!” I didn’t say anything, just showed him a photo of the sleek, flame-red speedster on my iPhone.
“That’s not a microlight,” he exclaimed. “Oh yes it is,” I retorted (in full panto mode), “and it takes off quicker, climbs better, cruises faster and goes further on cheaper fuel than that clunky old banger that costs you £120 an hour to rent! Oh, and it handles better too!” In fact, I could readily understand his confusion: modern microlights have been closing the gap with ‘traditional’ GA types such as Cessnas and Pipers, and this one is definitely a proper aeroplane.
The Breezer has been around for a while?the prototype made its maiden flight in 1999 and it entered production two years later. However, when fitted with a Rotax 912 (clearly the preferred engine), it was always going to struggle to be a viable microlight in the UK, which at the time had a weight limit of 450kg.
So an empty weight of, say 265kg would mean that, with your Editor and me aboard, there would only be about five kilograms left for fuel, which is just enough to get you into trouble but not to get you out! Conversely, in the USA it was marketed in the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category?which allows a maximum all-up weight of 1,320lb (599kg)?and sold well.
Many European microlight manufacturers and operators quickly concluded that 450kg just wasn’t viable, then a legislative ‘fudge’ was introduced that allowed an increase in the MAUW to 472.5kg if a Ballistic Recovery System (BRS) was fitted.
Interestingly, most BRS units weigh around 10kg, thereby allowing an increase in the useful load of about 12kg. Now, if you usually fly a legacy two-seater such as a C-152 or HR200, another twelve kilos of fuel may not sound like very much, but in an aircraft such as the Breezer it translates into about 140nm!
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It’s a beautiful winter’s day when I arrive at Conington, and the airfield is a veritable hive of activity, which is great to see in the current economic climate. You can’t beat a crisp winter’s day for bringing pilots out to play! UK Agent, Roger Cornwell arrives bang on time and after a quick coffee I wander out for a closer inspection.
This is the first Breezer Roger has imported, and his company Ascent Industries is marketing it as a factory-built ready-to-fly microlight, although he’s already considering marketing it in kit form, both as a microlight and a 600kg VLA (Very Light Aircraft). Approval is ‘imminent’.
Of all-metal construction, the Breezer is certainly quite a handsome machine. From the tip of the sharp-pointed spinner to the top of the swept-back fin it doesn’t look like a microlight. It also appears to be very well made and nicely finished. No prizes for guessing that it’s powered by a Rotax 912 (in fact the 100hp ULS version) driving a Woodcomp three-blade ground-adjustable propeller. I say no prizes because at first glance you might think it does have an air-cooled engine, as it has four separate air intakes.
The cowling is secured by a lot of Dzus fasteners, although a good-sized hatch in the top of the cowling provides access to the oil and coolant. The engine is fed by a single 76-litre fuselage tank immediately in front of the cockpit, with a BRS 6-1050 unit installed between it and the engine.
The proximity of the filler to the windscreen requires care while refuelling to avoiding any gas spilling on the screen or the nozzle striking it inadvertently?Roger admits he uses an old towel to protect the Perspex.
The aircraft is entirely conventional in both design and construction. It has a monococque structure, covered with riveted sheet metal skins. The fuselage, wings and tail unit are all made from CNC-machined high grade aluminium, with fibreglass tips on the wings and tail.
The constant-chord wings feature mass-balanced differential ailerons and mechanically-actuated plain flaps that together take up the entire trailing edge. The flaps have a greater span but smaller chord than the ailerons, and four settings: ‘0’ (up), ‘1’ (15°) ‘2’ (25°) and ‘3’ (43°).
The walkaround reveals several small but intriguing surprises, the first being electric aileron trim. Initially I thought this was a little OTT for a VLA but Roger explained that, as all the fuel is carried in the fuselage, different cockpit loadings could not be trimmed out by fuel use (as can be done in aeroplane fitted with wing tanks).
The undercarriage comprises GRP main wheel legs and a steel-tube nose strut. The nose strut has shock absorption and damping provided by a stack of rubber ‘doughnuts’ in compression, and the whole unit steers through the rudder pedals. All three wheels are covered by snug-fitting spats, and the main wheels carry hydraulic disc brakes.
The swept back fin carries a large rudder fitted with a ground-adjustable trim tab, while the constant-chord tailplane carries conventional separate elevators. Both elevators and rudder are horn-balanced, although the big surprise is the elevator trim tab?it’s absolutely enormous! Even without flying it, I could clearly see it was far too big, and Roger assured me that all subsequent aircraft will have a tab approximately half the size.
Access to the cockpit is from the front of the wing via large steps. I think these could easily be hinged so that, as soon as the engine starts, the airflow would blow them up. They’d be slightly heavier but the drag reduction would more than outweigh this.
The big canopy slides back a long way, making getting in and out very easy, although a post between the headrests would provide a useful handhold, as well as a place to hang the headsets. There is a pair of headset holders (in the canopy roof, behind the latch) but between the seats would be better. At 116cm the cockpit is pretty wide and also offers plenty of leg room. The seats are fixed and, although the rudder pedals do adjust, they only have two positions. Cushions can of course also be used, but I think an intermediate setting would be helpful. The control columns are S shaped to avoid fouling the seat squabs when the sticks are fully aft.
Once strapped in with the four-point harness I begin to acquaint myself with the general cockpit layout. Initial impressions are good; it’s uncluttered and neatly laid out with all the controls and instruments easy to see and reach. Closer inspection, however, reveals a few issues.
Firstly, I don’t understand why the ASI and altimeter are electronic. They seem unnecessarily complex, while the ASI’s odd design (about a third of the dial’s circumference is blank) means that the scale expansion is poor for the analogue presentation. Nor do I like the rotary combined master/starter switch, while the choke lever is too big and the more important fuel selector too small.
All the flight instruments are on the left of the panel, while the engine gauges (except for the tachometer and fuel pressure) and the clock are on the right, along with the switches, circuit breakers and a good-sized glove box. A sub-panel extending down from the centre of the instrument panel carries the throttle, choke and fuel valve, with the T-handle for the BRS directly above.
I didn’t like its location and wasn’t surprised when Roger said he tends to leave the safety pin in as it does rather look like a brake handle. (Incidentally, it’s about time the various BRS manufacturers got together and settled on a standard colour for the actuating control?I’d suggest black-and-yellow stripes.) The actual brake handle is located in a console between the seats and doubles as the parking brake, toe brakes being an option.
A ‘Johnson bar’ for the flaps is located alongside the brake lever. The baggage bay is excellent; it is of a good size, can carry up to 20kg and is accessible in flight.
Sliding the canopy closed brings a slight disappointment, as in flight it only locks open approximately 10cm. I never understand why, having gone to the time and trouble of making a canopy slide, some manufacturers don’t enable it to be opened a reasonable amount in flight.
Roger explained that the current stop is a temporary measure, and felt that there’s no reason why it couldn’t open quite a bit more, although its part-open position is primarily designed to help keep the occupants cool during a long taxi on a hot day. I feel quite strongly that being able to open it further would enhance its appeal. The test aircraft had the optional integral sunshade, and this is an option I’d certainly exercise as it’s a very big bubble.
Taxying confirms my initial impressions: this is a very straightforward machine to operate. The field of view is excellent, the nosewheel steering nicely geared, and the brakes smooth and progressive.
Regular readers will be aware that I prefer a steerable nosewheel and toe brakes, but if I must compromise a steerable nosewheel and a handbrake are more acceptable than a castoring nosewheel and toe brakes?particularly for lightweight aircraft. As the Breezer has a handbrake I was pleased to note that the throttle springs were not as powerful as on some Rotax-powered machines I’ve tested. (On the EuroFox and EuroStar, for example, they’re downright dangerous, making it imperative that the throttle friction is wound right up.)
Roger has carefully calculated his flight plan and fuel burn before setting off and refuelled accordingly. Thanks to this, and a typically gluttonous Christmas, we’re less than a kilo below the 472.5kg MAUW, although the cold crisp air and high pressure mean that the density altitude is well below sea level. The only negatives are the very gentle ninety-degree crosswind from starboard and the fact that the ground-adjustable prop has been pitched for the cruise.
For the first takeoff Roger says to use Flap 1, which seems somewhat unnecessary to me. We have almost a thousand metres of tarmac between us and the hedge and I very much doubt if we’ll need even 20% of the TORA (takoff run available). Nevertheless I do as instructed and we’re off the ground and climbing away at over 1,100fpm after a very short ground-roll, certainly less than 200m. The takeoff performance is more than adequate, and if the prop were pitched for the climb the performance would be truly stellar!
We’ve taken off in trail behind a Conington Flying Club Cessna 152 carrying photographer Keith, and it’s immediately apparent that the Breezer outperforms the elderly American on every level. It’s also a perfect day for an air-to-air shoot. The cold, calm, dense air is so thick and stable that it almost feels as if we’re driving across a frozen lake, while the surplus of power, crisp handling and superb field of view make holding formation extremely easy (and trust me, that’s not always the case!)
I can honestly say that I’ve not enjoyed a photoshoot so much in ages; although I always enjoy them retrospectively, at the time they’re quite often actually hard work. We soon get all the pictures in the can and, with all the qualitative stuff also noted (a good formation session soon reveals any handling defects), I settle down to record some quantitative data.
As Roger has already explained that the prop is pitched for the cruise I’m curious to see how fast the Breezer will go, so I level out at 3,000ft, open the engine right up and keep trimming forward. Just as I’d expected, that elevator trimmer is way too powerful! The speed takes a while to build, as the acceleration is quite slow, but eventually the ASI settles on 113kt at 5,350rpm, which is an impressive TAS of 116kt for a fuel flow of around 18 lit/hr.
I cross-check the speed by flying on reciprocal headings, noting the groundspeed on the GPS and then averaging them out. Although the engine sounds quite ‘busy’ at this setting, it’s well below the METO (maximum except takeoff) of 5,500rpm and should in theory run at this setting all day. However, a far more economical power setting is around 4,500rpm, which still gives around 90kt IAS while burning about a third less fuel.
With the tank filled with 76 litres the still air range (plus VFR reserve) is over 520nm, while the endurance is certainly greater than mine (even though the seats are very comfortable and there’s an optional heater.) One point that might be worth bearing in mind is that, as the fuel is carried forward of the cockpit, the C of G goes aft as fuel is consumed.
And as the baggage bay (which can carry up to 20kg) is behind the cockpit, this could possibly produce a well-aft C of G at the end of a long flight, although Roger assures me that during some pretty extreme testing the handling had remained satisfactory, even with the C of G right at its aft limit.
As the formation flying has revealed no unsatisfactory characteristics with the handling, I move straight on to the stability checks. The well-proportioned fin and rudder have already indicated that both longitudinal and directional stability should be positive and well-damped, and this proves to be the case. Laterally it’s ‘weakly neutral’.
I would say that the Breezer’s design mission is probably aimed more at the touring market as, although the handling is certainly sprightly enough, it’s not as responsive as a EuroFox, for example.
Slowing down to examine slow flight takes a while (again, probably due to the coarse-pitched prop) but on the plus side the Breezer proves to have a surprisingly shallow glide. Stalls are a non-event. Whether power on or off, flaps up or down, turning or straight and level, or any combination of the above. The stall really is extremely benign, with subtle but discernible buffet and no tendency to drop a wing.
The lowest indicated speed I see (in a departure stall with Flap 1 and plenty of power) is in the region of 23-24kt, but I suspect there’s more than a bit of position error at such high alpha. (Roger would subsequently confirm that the ASI was under-reading slightly at the slow end of the speed spectrum.) The controls continue to work effectively in the stall.
A closer examination of the best climb speed proves quite interesting, as there is surprisingly little difference whether you climb at 50kt or 70kt, the best rate of climb averaging out at around 1,000fpm. Personally, I prefer seventy, as the deck angle at fifty really is quite steep, impinging on the forward view.
The only item left on the flight test card is to examine the landing characteristics and these rapidly prove to be as satisfactory as the rest of the Breezer’s flight envelope. I particularly approve of the fine field of view, and the only thing that slightly marrs my enjoyment of a fine session of circuits is the proclivity of one of the other local aircraft to fly gigantic ‘bomber’ circuits. I know that Conington used to be a Boeing B-17 base but you don’t have to pretend you’re flying a Fortress!
Anyway, the Breezer is a very tractable aircraft in the circuit, and is very easy to land. The flaps produce plenty of drag, meaning you can keep the speed up until short final (so as to mix in easily with faster traffic) and then close the throttle, drop all the flap (once you’re below the slightly low Vfe) and bleed the speed back. Around fifty ‘over the hedge’ is plenty, and that still provides a good margin above the stall. In gusty conditions a bit more speed wouldn’t hurt, but I’d advise against coming in much slower as the Breezer doesn’t have a lot of momentum and (in common with all light aircraft) is adversely affected by gusts.
A flapless takeoff convinces Roger that, when taking off from long, concrete runways, this is probably the way to go, while a flapless landing is still surprisingly short, bearing in mind the almost total absence of headwind. I want to try a crosswind landing?the demonstrated crosswind component is just twelve knots and I feel that this is quite conservative?but there just isn’t any wind to speak of.
What’s the verdict?
Overall, I’d say it’s a very benign aircraft, the only possible ‘gotcha’ (and one it shares with many LSAs) being the low-ish Vfe. When on final, you need to ensure you’re below sixty knots before selecting Flap 3, and if you decide to go around (and unlike many older aircraft, it will do this easily with full flap) you must get the flaps up a bit sharpish. Of course Vfe is with the flaps set to 3 (43°) and for most situations Flap 2 (25°) is adequate.
While debriefing over a coffee in Conington’s clubhouse Roger could tell I was impressed?and I must admit that I was! Whether as a trainer or tourer, the Breezer would be equally attractive to both private owners and as a club aircraft. I even liked the colour.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement, and the biggest enhancement (for me at least) would be to extend the canopy’s range of travel when it’s open in flight. Roger is currently investigating this?although he’s not sure it will go to my preferred option of around a metre.
The electric ASI and VSI seem unnecessarily complex (although they are lighter), and I’d junk the headset holder on the canopy and replace it with a post between the seats which would also double as a handhold when getting in and out. The aileron trim and co-located LED trim indicator are currently mounted vertically, which is counter-intuitive. They should (and will) be changed to a horizontal layout. Finally, I really don’t like those combined rotary master/starter switches.
Of course, this is the first Breezer Roger’s brought in, so many of my suggestions may well be incorporated. I just hope they find a way to make that canopy open a lot further!
Aerosport Breezer M400
Wing span: 10.92m
Wing area: 10.95sq m
WEIGHTS AND LOADINGS
Empty weight: 291.5kg
Max takeoff weight: 472.5kg
Useful load: 181kg
Wing loading: 43.1kg/sq m
Power loading: 4.72kg/kW
Fuel capacity: 76 lit
Baggage capacity: 20kg
Max cruise: 115kt
Climb rate: 1,000fpm
Landing distance: 140m
ENGINE AND PROPELLER
Rotax 912ULS liquid-cooled flat-four, producing 100hp (74.57kW) at 5,800rpm and driving a Woodcomp three-blade ground-adjustable propeller
Tel: +44 07739 670585