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A review of the Avid Catalina by an aircraft builder.

Experiences with an AVID CATALINA Ultralight

Flying has always held an enormous fascination for me. My little Avid Catalina amphibious homebuilt ultralight has been a source of great pleasure. I confess I was not smart enough to build it myself, but did pick it up at the right price, if ever such extravagance can be thus justified.
Notice the tip floats, retractable under-carriage, and the basketball built into the nose as a buffer, for those liquid landings by the beach. This is a plane with real character and charm. My ambition is to land on an airstrip on my own property, but some persuasive argument is yet lacking in persuading the powers that be that this is a good idea.

Below I have reprinted the text of a couple of articles that I wrote that have appeared in Pacific Flyer since buying my little gem. All advice is purely personal and as you will see I am no expert. I have tried to put it all in, warts and all. I hope you find it of interest.

Article in Pacific Flyer August 1999
All systems 'GO' with AUF and/or GA Experimental.

About a year ago (1998) I decided the time had come to reignite my lifelong ambition to fly. The idea of owning my own plane still seemed a remote possibility, but first things first. I dusted off my CPL, not used for 28 years, had a couple of training flights and decided to go for it. The medical went well, and I started training up to PPL at my local flight school. Flying a Warrior was like putting on an old pair of well-fitting gloves. It was great to be back. The flying was exhilarating. The feelings, that all pilots know, came rushing back. The fear, the caution, the awareness of self reliance, the awareness of what I still needed to know, a sense of really doing something worthwhile. I was hooked again. I had my problems with lack of familiarity, but nothing that I felt couldn't be handled with practice, care and training. I decided to go the next step, and started thinking about a suitable aircraft to meet my goals and new ambitions.
Now, this is a pretty important step, and anyone would be wise to carefully consider what to include on one's list. For me it came out something like this:

No. 1 Priority list.

  • Two seats, preferably side-by-side, (she-who-must-be-obeyed insisted).
  • A fair payload, as we are both pretty hefty.
  • Reliability. A four-stroke engine with a good reputation.
  • Price. I just don't have the keys to the mint
  • Reasonable maintenance, repair and running costs.

     

Other considerations.

  • With plans to tour Australia, could a plane be included.
  • Speed v STOL.
  • STOL performance. Not absolutely essential, but what pilot could resist, with the possibility of putting in a short strip on my property.
  • Speed. Second to STOL, but I do like to get somewhere, I'm not just interested in staying up.
  • Flexibility and versatility. With the possibility of touring perhaps we had better look at including
  • Easy-folding wings and trailer-ability.
  • A range of fuel and refuelling options
  • A decent range/ radius of operation; say three hours endurance.
  • Grass field or overall versatility of operation.

     

I started discussing these options with my new flying friends. Now, it would be a total exaggeration to say that this is where the shit hit the fan. It would not be extreme to say that there was a considerable shift in the attitude of instructors and others at the school, and that one or two pilot friends started to raise their eyebrows. At first I couldn't understand what it was that was causing the freezer door to open. After all, I was just talking flying, the interest we had in common. I am obviously somewhat naive and come from a sheltered background, but I caught on, eventually. I was talking 'non-standard', 'non-GA', 'non-VH', 'STOL', possibly even, dare I say it, 'Ultra-light'.
Let me say right here that I was talking about 'normal', 3-axis aircraft that could be registered either AUF or GA, that had similar performance to aircraft already on the field. I don't consider it appropriate to fly aircraft of widely differing performance in exactly the same circuit, but solutions can nearly always be found, if the will is there.

No, I feel that the somewhat cool reception was not because of fear of any safety issue, which I could find some consideration for. I feel that there was fear all right, but fear of competition, not safety, and more, there appeared to be a superiority or even snobbishness, which I was so, so, sorry to see in this great land, that 'till now, I have been so proud to adopt as my home.

Maybe I exaggerate. Maybe I'm too sensitive. Probably I'm too critical, but certainly, I changed my flying school and moved to another field, where I rediscovered the camaraderie I had felt 30 years ago, in the club where I started to fly. Many of my new friends fly at both fields: they just ignore the 'cool' when they go 'GA'. My point is this. We are all brothers and sisters with a magnificent obsession that's beyond money or rank. Please let us all work together to fly, whether it's for Quantas in a 747 or for fun in a Quicksilver. Preaching over.

I started with a simple story of my adventure back to flying. I hope I may be able to continue the adventure at a later date. To my fledgling friends, happy flying.

From 'GO' to Oh

Having decided to investigate the possibility of realising my dream, and having the somewhat reluctant consent of my long-suffering partner, I began seriously assessing the options.
The only member of my family who was ever inflicted with this flying disease had long, long since passed on. Family legend had it that my great uncle John had flown the first Cuerva gyrocopter into the UK, from Spain in the 1930's, (and therein lies another tale). Naturally enough this gave me an affinity for these whirlybirds, and their obvious short-field landing capabilities led me to give them a try. Very impressive! In a strong gusty wind, we took off in less than 300 feet, and she handled the gusts as though hanging from a skyhook. A bit slow. A bit noisy, but the landing was flabbergasting. Straight down from 500ft, flare, touch-down as light as a feather, and then we actually went backwards a couple of feet, before gently taxying off as if nothing had happened.
Mind-blowing! Absolutely sensational.
If you've never tried this form of the disease, give it a go. I may will certainly try them again, if time and money allow, but for now, auto gyros do have some disadvantages for my circumstances.
One big problem is fuel economy. Those available now are also rather slow. But the clincher for me at this time is that, even with a pre-rotator, the take-off run is likely to be too long in calm conditions. Strike three.

Okay, maybe I'm showing my age, but when I first started flying, canards were just about the 'thing of the future' and Burt Rutan, some kind of holy father. Canards had to be investigated. Sleek and sexy screamers, but could I find one that could also stop within a quarter mile after clearing a 50ft boundary. The simple answer was NO.
The best I found, was the first I looked at, and though the price was OK, given that it required an engine, I wasn't about to make an instant decision. It was a tricycle Dragonfly, which on a good day might just have got into my very short (planned) landing strip, if I held my tongue right, and made all the right moves. Take-off, no worries, mate. Landing, too risky.

I did look at another Dragonfly Mk3, with inboard conventional gear, but after a bit of a vibration scare (at a few knots above the Vne), and 1000ft landing roll, I was persuaded it was too hot for me. (135kts may not sound fast, but a plane travelling at 250kmh on an 80hp motor is very slick, and doesn't want to stop). So it was back to the drawing board, or rather, by this time, to my bible, the Kit Planes Directory.

I reassessed my goals. If I couldn't 'get there fast' and land at home, then what was more important to me. I decided that the possibility of a STOL (landing at home and elsewhere), was more attractive than speed. Okay, then how about broadening the other criteria? In Australia, if you are touring, fuel and convenient landing sites become limiting factors. Only a limited number of larger Airfield By Appt Onlys, have Avgas. If you are travelling off the beaten track, unleaded fuel is far more readily available at your normal service stations. Boat harbours also have fuel on-site, and an amphibian on unleaded petrol surely has the best of both worlds. Refuelling at the pump at a boat harbour is likely to be much easier than humping fuel from the pump to the small local strip, and a boat harbour is also much more likely to be close to the shops.
Add easy-folding wings and the field narrows further.

The Priority list now looks like this:

  • Two place side-by-side (plus a little luggage for you-know-who?)
  • Reliability. A four stroke engine with a good reputation, on UL fuel.
  • Price. Some things never change.
  • Good STOL performance (not super-STOL but pretty fair).
  • Trailer-ability.(Easy-folding wings?),
  • A decent range/radius of operation, say 3hr endurance.
  • Grass field or strip operation. (Tailwheel?).
  • Amphibian.?
  • Local Agent?

     

This time a close inspection of the Kit Planes Directory turns up only a very few planes that might fit the bill, and then not in standard form. An Avid Catalina with a four-stroke engine may just be on, if such a beast existed.
Time for some further investigation. Yes, Avid have an agent in my home town, Melbourne. Yes, there is an Avid Catalina in Australia with a Rotax 912. It was close to flying a couple of years ago. No information since, except it may have gone to Queensland. I want to know how this bird flies, so the chase begins.

A full month of fruitless enquiries, deadends and misdirections and then all of a sudden I'm talking to the man. Yes he bought the kit, had built most of it and had experts complete the trickier parts, and yes it was ready to fly 18 months ago, but no, he cant tell me how it flies because the plane has never flown. Why? Paperchase problems. A G.A first-of-type (in Australia) requires not a few reams of paperwork. These hadn't been filled to the satisfaction of the powers that be and some paperwork appeared to have gone astray. Result! Frustration and an apparent gate-guard in the making. Then the big question from the man. Would I be interested in buying his plane? He had got married, started a business, got tired of waiting and lost interest, and couldn't afford the hanger fees. Oh! Wow! This I had to give some serious thought. This was in June 98. I was very mindful of the proposed new regulations supposedly coming in by October. If, and it was a big IF, if the proposed Experimental category came in, the plane just might be able to meet the requirements. Or, it was also a possible candidate for the AUF, again the big IF, if the weight limit for ultralights was raised to 1200lb(544kg), the AUW of the Avid Catalina.
Forget the doubts, the answer still had to be some more big IFs. If the price was right, and, if the plane was checked out 'Okay' by someone well qualified to test it.

Once more I sat down to analysed my position, being as cold-blooded as my excitement would allow. Was I prepared to buy a plane, a home built first of type that had never flown, from a doctor (ie non-mechanic) in another state? Superficially it met all of my priorities, had most of the extras you could want, including radio, com, and even a transponder, but what was the risk and cost to get it in the air? Would it ever get in the air? I had been looking at a number of finished planes with C of A's, or at least Permits to Fly, going for around $A27,000. I reckoned that I needed to save at least $5000 to even be worth looking, as I could expect to spend most of that to get it home, satisfy the paper work tiger, and get done any work that might be needed.

It was back to the phone and onto the Web. Find out all I could, from everywhere and from anyone who would talk to me about rag-and tube against composite or all metal. Tail-dragger-pushers. Rotax 912's, AUW limits, the AUF. Avid generally and Catalinas. Amphibians; what restrictions there are on where they can operate, and what might be known of the builder of this plane and of the LAME's who helped him.

Add to that, hours finding out about the paperwork and regulations, which was by far the most confusing area, since no-one really knew how, what or where with all the changes going through. The folk at SAAA were just great, particularly Stephen Dines, giving unstintingly of their time and enormous knowledge and experience. Likewise, later, Paul Middleton and others at the AUF were just so helpful. Thanks guys, your blood's worth bottling. I'd never have made it this far without you all.

To be honest, rag and tube had been on the bottom of my list of preferred building types, but I now could give you some very good arguments in their favour. High thrust-line pushers would need some special care, and the regs on amphibians appear now to be much more reasonable than they were 30 years ago. Avid checked out very well and my local agent, Tom Wickers, who lives just around the corner, has been a tower of strength in more ways than one. He only seems to wilt when two guys pick up the left wing at the same time he's jacked up on the right. Sorry about that, Tom.

Well, for the story to continue, the doctor had to take his medicine. This, fine fellow that he is, he did like a man, and we settled at a nice round figure of $A20,000. To both of us at the time, this seemed a logical price in the circumstances. However, I apologise for a few mild cases of apoplexy caused to those who have enquired about the deal, especially when they've just spent $50-$60,000 to get their baby to fly.

By this time, I had been to Sydney and seen the plane, and had a local expert give it the nod, with the promise to go over it with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, when the time was right. All that remained, was the paper-work. By the time I'd finished, I was definitely a little paranoid about the paperwork. I still am.

The first decision here was, which way to go? Though the new regulations were yet to be ratified, it soon appeared that, from none, we now had two options. We could wait "a little longer" and possibly fly under the new GA 'Experimental' classification, once the details were worked out. This had appeal as the plane had, supposedly, been built to 101.28 standards, but there were going to be unknown delays and definite obstacles. Alternatively, we could fly right away (we had only? waited five months) under the new raised weight limit of the AUF category, which for amphibians was now over 600kg. All I had to do, was qualify as an AUF pilot, pay my fees, and find a LAME with both an airframe and an engine ticket who was prepared to help me sign it out. Sounds easy. Looks like it's all systems 'GO,' with the Federation.

Will it go?

Having decided to go for a home built Avid Catalina Amphibian fitted with a Rotax 912 engine, the emphasis now turned to getting it tested, getting it home and getting it ready to fly. Not necessarily in that order, although that's how it turned out. This turned out to be a whole new barrel of laughs, with many a catch for the unwary or uninitiated. Along the way I have met so many helpful enthusiasts and classic characters that the whole experience has become a major life-changing experience.

First things first. Not being experienced with the nitty gritty of aircraft design I first wanted advice on whether the aircraft was a good risk. How easy it might be to check it out and test it, and repair it or modify it, should the need arise.
The credentials of Avid as a company, and the Catalina aircraft, both checked out well on the Web and elsewhere. I corresponded with owners in the U.S.A and had already received the promise of assistance from the local agent, Tom Wickers, who had indirectly put me onto the plane in the first place.

Advice from articles in magazines, LAME's, pilots and Stephen Dines of the SAAA, in particular, proved invaluable. All-in-all they convinced me that a rag and tube design assembled from a reputable factory-built kit, would probably be one of the better choices for someone in my position, (a buyer of someone else's home-built machine). The reasoning being that with R&T it was far easier to examine the basic integrity of the aircraft (the airframe in particular), and it was also more repairable. I accepted the advice and reasoning as unassailable although it went against my preferences for a sleek glass or all metal craft.

My own preference, of a four cylinder 4-stroke engine (a R912) seemed well accepted as a wise and conservative choice. An amphibian, pusher with retractable gear was seen as more in the 'radical' mould, but the attitude was more that of great interest than extreme caution, so I felt encouraged to proceed.

The next step, was a serious inspection and assessment of the work to be done. I had been told that the plane was finished but had never flown because of what were basically (understandable) paperwork problems. I insisted that an assessment and thorough inspection be made by an independent LAME, before purchase.

The basic aircraft had been built by the owner. The covering and installation of the engine had been completed by two LAME's, (the owner being unable to continue due to pressure of work). The radios and some of the electric's were fitted by another specialist. I was able to track a number of people who had knowledge of the plane and of the work that had been done, though there was little paperwork to account for it. All this work was now checked and tested again by both an airframe LAME and another (engine) LAME, both very highly respected and able engineers. The plane was passed OK for possible acceptance for GA registration under the "Experimental" classification. The inspections were carried out, in my stipulation, "as far as possible to 101.28 standards."

Because of the delays in its implementation, (in December 1998), I decided not to go for the GA Amateur Built classification (under .95 or .55 or whatever), but went instead for the AUF home-built classification under the newly raised weight limit of (for amphibians), 610kg. These regulations stipulated a final inspection by myself(?) under the supervision and guidance of a LAME with both engine and airframe tickets.*

I detail all of this boring rigmarole for good reason. Despite the checks and tests, I found one or two faults (one potentially serious). On reaching my home base Airfield By Appt Only, (more about that later, perhaps) I had an L2 AUF engineer again check out the plane. He found a number of serious oversights, which could well have had 'interesting' consequences. He further recommended I seek more expert assistance with setting up the flaperons (peculiar to Avid and Kitfox), so it was 'back on the road' to see Tom Wickers, the Avid agent.

Let me recap before I go on. From the mid-stage of construction, the plane had been built professionally and then checked by no less than six, I say again six professional aircraft technicians. Tom, also an L2 AUF technician, (number 7) discovered a badly fouled rudder cable, which was corrected, along with a number of other less serious faults. We also investigated a collapsing undercarriage problem which had been mentioned by others as a matter of some concern, but not investigated further. It proved to be a fault produced by incorrect assembly and, possibly, a suspension design weakness.

Some of the faults repeatedly missed along the way were things such as a number of missing split pins on untightened bolts, which could have let go on the first flight or the fiftieth. Basic things just loosely assembled, supposed to be checked later. Checks that nearly didn't get done in time. Other items, like the undercarriage, were just plain assembled wrongly. The undercarriage did appear a bit finely balanced, but neither I, nor any of the specialists, though obviously aware that it was a bit odd, dug deep enough to properly check it out.

There are lessons to be learnt here. I, in particular, have been more than a bit of an ignorant cowboy and far too gung-ho. But I am not alone in that. First, I believe that we all tended to think that because it looked professionally done, then it 'should be right'. It was known to have been checked before, so 'it should be right'. It wasn't until a number of faults became obvious that anyone started to seriously examine each and every system with a thorough care and a thoughtful and systematic attention to detail. I was lucky. Tom Wickers was lucky. Everyone involved along the way was lucky. No one injured. No serious damage done. Will you rely on luck?

If you are a LAME or an L2 maintenance engineer employed to go over someone else's work or supervise an owner's final inspection, how carefully will you supervise? How honestly will you advise? How careful can you be? I seriously query the psychology of the new system. In principal, 'caveat emptor' (buyer beware) seems fair enough. It seems logical that the owner must take the final responsibility for his or her own safety. However, many like myself will, and can only rely on the expertise of others in such situations. In fact, I would go so far as to say that no one person can 'know it all', so you have to rely on others. As a buyer with a new toy I was excited and keen to get going. For me, I confess to being terribly gung-ho at times. However, I sought advice about this purchase from experts and was given, and took a lot of advice. I was far more careful than is, perhaps my norm, and repeatedly had things checked and inspected. It seemed to me an extraordinary lot of precautions, and yet still I very nearly got caught. Not once; not twice, but at least three times. If it were not for the professionalism of the two L2 AUF technicians Whatever the regulations might say, it would be worth bearing in mind that the Courts might well take a different attitude. If you are asked to assist, don't let that 'final inspection' turn into just that, the FINAL inspection.

*(Historical note: This may well have been the first such inspection (under the newly ratified regulations) as the engineer's authority was signed and passed as a 'special' by the great guys at the AUF, so I could get home for Christmas.)

2nd Article Pacific Flyer.
Again it's all 'GO'

You may remember my article in August, 99 about the decisions involved for a poor enthusiast in buying a plane. Well, as I have found, buying a plane was one thing, getting it delivered home, quite another. There appeared no way to do what seemed the obvious solution, that is, fly the plane home, at least, not in a reasonable time frame. It may have eventually been possible under a GA registration, with special dispensations and a lot of rigmarole, but that had other time delays built in, which is why I had decided to go with the AUF. This was in December 98, when all those regulations were being sorted out. Happily, the AUF gave me all the help they could.

My little Avid Catalina is just able to by classified within the Ultralight category, provided I only carry two people. The passenger can sit up front with the 'captain', or in the wide back seat, as long as their neck isn't. Long that is. The room in the back is fine for wide dwarfs, hunchbacks, or lots of luggage. Being an amphibian, it qualifies for a weight allowance of 70kg, bringing the total AUW to 614kg (1350lb). With a ramp weight of 346kg, I have a potential maximum payload of 268kg (591lb), but C of G has to be closely watched.

A first flight, of an ultralight, from a GAAP. It was all a bit too much. I had a number of volunteers prepared to try but time and tide wait for no man, and ready or not, Christmas was coming. I decided to trailer the plane 800km home to Melbourne, and save the hassle. Well, that's what I thought.

I had the plane checked out thoroughly by two LAMEs prior to purchase, (one qualified 'airframe' and one 'engine'). However, the regulations required that a single, dual-ticket engineer, was required to check me checking the plane, in order to authorise a release, which I had to sign. This seemed a responsible enough way to do things, me being ultimately responsible for my own safety. In theory it seems and sounds so logical, but I now have some serious concerns about the system. One person supervising my inspection of an aircraft, in a guidance role, that a third person has already inspected. It turned out to be a severe case of 'too many cooks' or 'too many chiefs and not enough Indians'.

The aircraft was subsequently inspected twice more by independent L2, AUF technicians. Each found potentially fatal faults that had been previously missed, and afterwards we still had gear failure on our first flight, as well as a crop of minor faults. Being a thick-skinned pusher amphibian, the gear failure was more an acute embarrassment, than a serious life-threatening catastrophe. But just count the checks. This aircraft was built largely by two LAMEs. Presumably they checked their own work. I, myself (a fair mechanic but no aircraft technician,) and three more LAMEs, checked the aircraft in Sydney, and two more independent AUF L2s, have checked it over again since then. That's seven highly-recognised, qualified and competent technicians, who could all be said to have muffed it. Plus me. The questions must be asked. How and why?

Since I must ultimately take responsibility, it must ultimately be my fault. But I am not qualified and must to some degree rely on my advisers, the LAMEs and L2 s. Since I do not know the total range of problems that I should be checking for in a meaningful way, how can I do anything else but rely on experts. Even if I had totally built the aircraft, I might not be competent to fully check out all of its systems.

Might I make two special pleas at this time. First, to all technicians. Be critically aware that these new regulations will undoubtedly produce a flush of aircraft, such as mine, with new owners, like me, who will be putting our lives in your hands. Second plea, to those new owners. Get a second opinion, but don't tell anyone that it is a second opinion. Then check it again. Thoroughly. Very, very thoroughly. Here endeth the second lesson.

Oops! No Plane.

The next part of the story is an embarrassing tale of my own haste and stupidity. And possibly, of just how lucky you can be.
A friend promised to lend me a trailer, which required a little work, which he arranged to have done. It took him longer than expected, which pushed my time schedule a bit tighter than I'd have liked. I went up to Sydney, checked out the plane and eventually loaded it onto the trailer and tied it down tight, setting off, back to Melbourne in the evening, two days later. My tow vehicle was my four tonne motor home, which most efficiently blocked all view of the trailer tagging along behind. Shortly after dawn and with the sun in my eyes, I decided to take a nap. I pulled into a truck stop, climbed through a hatchway into the back and slept for a while.

A couple of hours later, much refreshed, I had some breakfast. I jumped out the door to check the trailer. I looked around the corner, nothing there but sunshine. I was half-way to the front of the vehicle before the penny dropped. Nothing there! Ooops.

As the reader might imagine, this was not one of the better moments in my life. And talking of imagination, have you any idea just how fast the brain can go through about three dozen impressive scenarios in about three seconds flat. I am now proud to say that an actual brown-stained panic was avoided, just, but scenes of catastrophe and mayhem did accompany me for quite some time.

Feeling incredibly guilty and very sorry for myself, I called into the police station at Holbrook at about 8am on Christmas Eve, to tell them I had lost an aeroplane. I think it fair to say that I got their immediate attention. The senior constable was very understanding. He wasn't quite sure whether to lock me up or laugh himself sick. He stuck me in the front office while he consorted with another colleague. I could dimly hear a lively conversation emanating from the back office, followed by a phone call or two. He must have had some sad news, for when he returned his eyes appeared red, apparently from crying.

When he regained his composure, he was able to inform me that there were no reports of mass fatalities from the road north. No-one had reported anything. It was starting to look like the scenario of someone 'driving off with my plane in tow, while I slept like a baby' might be the go, but it was up to me to drive back north, to check it out. Twenty kilometres north of Holbrook my dread turned to joy. Neatly parked off the road, in some long dry grass, I could see a piece of yellow tarp, with the tip of a propeller sticking out the top. This may be the first recorded First Flight where the plane took off without wings or pilot, but happily the landing was a soft one. During the somewhat abrupt braking ceremony, the battery had kept going and had torn off its terminals. Otherwise no dent, no scratch, no damage at all. Boy, someone up there must love me.

In my haste, I had failed to secure proper safety chains and the tow ball was worn and had worked its way loose through the night and simply lifted out, and hey presto, a dawn flight, sans pilot. To add the jingle bells to my Christmas cake, a local farmer pulled alongside and helped pull the plane out and that same senior constable stopped me shortly after to wish me a Merry Christmas. He didn't even give me a ticket. Said I'd had enough of a lesson for one day. He was still smiling half an hour later when he passed me in town, while getting another tow ball and chains. I sort of think I might have made his day. The rest of the trip to Mangalore was painless, but I was still having palpitations right through Christmas.

Since getting her home my little pride and joy has continued to enrich my life and impoverish my bank account, but it has been oh, so well worth while. Partly as penance and a thank you to she who knows too much, I had to take a four-month interlude, touring the East coast of Australia. Hard work, but you know how it is. This is largely why this second instalment has been so long coming.

Now home and with those first 25 hours on the clock, I am about to get my feet wet. For what's an amphibian for, if it don't float. If anyone's interested, I'll recount the tail of those 25 hours and the next ten, another time. I think it might be of interest. Meanwhile, Happy flying.

Getting my Feet Wet

To continue the story of my little Avid Catalina, the interest from all pilots in my little plane has been quite extraordinary. I think it must be one of those recurring dreams of the freedom of flying. To land on water is one of those ambitions that' right up there for a great many pilots, and my little ugly duckling soon becomes a swan in the eyes nearly every pilot she encounters.

The Avid Catalina could never by classed a beauty, but it certainly has some quirky charm. Mine has the option of the deep pontoons on the wing tips that give her a very distinctive appearance, rather than the perhaps more utilitarian pontoon floats further inboard. But the feature that really steals the show is the blue painted basketball in the nose, to act as a fender, should we ever run up to a wharf. It never fails to draw comment, along with "How does it go on the water?" Being an amphibian, she also has retractable main gear, a tailwheel, and a pusher prop, and she sits very low to the ground, (and even lower on the water).

I took possession twelve eventful months ago. With time off for a few minor modifications and repairs, and four months time out on tour, (to fulfil a partnership obligation and to do an in-depth study of the possible water landing sites up the East coast to Cooktown), I only completed the first 25 hours of testing and trial just before Christmas. I think I have done tolerably well to have now knotched up nearly 50 hours (end of January 2000.)

Avid Catalina

I am now in a position to give my impressions about the performance of one the new kids on the block, the Avid Catalina, with a Rotax 912, and perhaps answer in some way the many questions that have been put.
My overall impression after a year is that I am still excited by this little plane. I have at last taken off and landed again on the water, and that has to be one of the greatest buzzes of my flying career. I have nowhere near attained full proficiency from water, and I look forward to a lot more experimentation of the potential in that area. Unfortunately I rather doubt whether I'll have the power to get up onto the hump with two aboard, so you'll all just have to take my word for it.
In general flying, we had a problem with the retractable landing gear that resulted in a rather lower descent after the first take-off and landing than was anticipated. I believe that the implications as regards the general checking of the aircraft are far more serious than the actual event proved to be, and I had a bit to say about this in my first article. Mind you, it was quite dramatic and a most salutary lesson on not taking things for granted. In this case, it applied to a number of well-qualified technicians, each trusting that the other fellow had done what should have been done, with the inevitable, noisy and embarrassing belly landing.
However, every cloud has a silver lining they say, and the consequence in this case was that the retractable undercarriage received some repair and a modification, to provide a true suspension damper system to assist the tundra tyres. We fitted a compression type shock-damper as the locking arm, with quite extraordinary results. We now have an aircraft that is incredibly forgiving of my ham-handed handling, where previously I had such problems just taxying, that I gave away the honours of the first flight, which had previously been a major ambition.

Solo, the Catalina springs off the ground well inside 200 feet and climbs quickly for the first 50 feet or so. The ground effect of the large wing with its drooped tips is quite noticeable. This is even more apparent with two-up. Beyond the ground effect, the climb drops off to 450fpm, solo and about 200fpm dual. The large wing tends to give a bit of a rough ride in turbulence, with limited aileron authority at times in severe conditions. In warm thermal conditions it becomes necessary to watch the speed and power, or you'll easily exceed the Vne of 80kts TAS (near 90 IAS). Normal cruise is around 60kts TAS (66kt IAS). Solo, stalling at around 44kt IAS, is a non-event, the plane mushes down quite gently, and recovers the instant power is applied, or the nose is lowered. It takes a really determined effort to do a power-on stall. She will then drop a wing quite convincingly. Nose down, recovery is easy and conventional.

One idiosyncrasy that takes some getting used to, is the use of rudders in cruise mode. Apply any more than the minimum rudder for course correction, without aileron, and the plane will drop the opposite wing. I believe this is a side effect of the wing tip sponsons, catching the wind on the outside in a yaw and turning them into oversized ailerons. Coordinated turns on the other hand, are easy and smooth, and the plane will make impressive steep turns without loss of height. Coming in to land at 55kt IAS, the glide ratio is quite good, much better then most U/lights, and can be extended at hold-off in ground effect, for a very easy landing when into wind. Cross wind landings probably require more care than usual, as it is easy to get those sponsons dangerously close to the ground using a wing-down technique, and she weathercocks quite aggressively, given half a chance. In fact, I have yet to master the technique. On the other hand, you don't need much runway to land. Impressive steep descents can be achieved with opposite rudder, utilising the opposite wing drop mentioned earlier that is apparent in yaw. It has been suggested that this manoeuvre be used with caution, as the side load on the sponsons may be quite high. Control however is easy and recovery is instant on kicking straight. It just takes a little getting used too, to have full right rudder, full right aileron, and controlling pitch and speed with elevator as you slip to the left, nearly flat, and what feels like a most impressive sink rate.

Visibility is excellent, the crew being well forward of the wing, but it creates some weight and balance problems. Being fairly hefty, I need some tail ballast if carrying a sizeable passenger up front, and having no adjustable trim as yet, it can lead to a slight and constant elevator load. However I do have the option of putting the passenger in the third seat, (come baggage compartment), which is almost right on the C of G. This plane has an enormous baggage area. As a GA version, experimental, you could carry three up, but they would all have to be a bit under-fed. On the AUF register, only two seats can be used, but if you don't feel like talking, you could make the number two sit in the back. I haven't been bold enough to suggest it, yet.

Special features

The AUF additional weight allowance for an amphibian of 75kg, (for floats or seaplane) gives a seaplane a potential payload advantage. Whilst the lightest floats, would likely weigh all of this bonus, a seaplane could potentially include a strong boat hull for far less than 75kg. Thus, in addition to the operating advantages and versatility, the seaplane can add a little extra power or payload.

What would I have different?

Well, though I am more than happy with the Rotax 912 as a power plant, I believe this plane would be most impressive performance-wise, with the 912S kit, for a little higher cruise speed and better two-up short-field performance. The Aussie kit offers a 4-stroke Jabiru, which saves the additional weight of the Rotax 912. (Prop pitch has since been changed, which has improved performance considerably)

For those who are happy with 2-strokes, the Rotax 618 should perform really well. Personally, I find 2-strokes a little too unforgiving for my peace of mind.
For preference I would have a full composite hull, a little more speed and a little more width in the cabin. The latter is standard in the later model, (being 4" wider). I believe it unwise to put a rag-and-tube into sea water and so far have resisted the temptation, but I understand there is one in New Zealand that lives on an estuary. I would also fully cowl the engine if I were considering going onto salt. The wing folding is quite good and potentially a great convenience, but takes a while to set up. It also leaves the unit a little too wide and long for convenient trailering, more so than the smaller Avids. However, as a way to save on hanger fees, it takes some beating. I guess I'm just getting lazy.

Avid CatalinaOne inconvenience on the Catalina, against the other Avids, is that the wing tip floats (in both versions) cause difficulties when the wings are folded. On mine, the tail has to be mounted on a dolly-wheel to lift the tail up, so the wingtips don't hit the ground. Also, the fuel tank has to be drained fairly low, or fuel leaks out. There is the option of two on-board tanks, or even three tanks for an endurance of up to 10 hours. I only have one, with 3 hours endurance. The second tank might be good, but three is probably a bit much. They all have the same capacity of around 53 litres. For real long range there's plenty of room to rig extra tanks in the baggage space, should it ever really be needed, but my tank would be full long before the plane's tanks became empty.

The control panel is minimal in my craft and I would have done things differently, but the gauges are adequate for fair conditions and this is no reflection on the aeroplane overall.
All in all though, I consider this little plane an absolute joy to own and fly. It's perhaps a little agricultural in finish, but it's full of character and charm and is the centre of attraction wherever it goes. It has incredible versatility and is forgiving and easy to fly, but you do have to fly it all of the time.

Specifications (with 912 Rotax).

These figures are my rough estimates of actual performance results and no way reflect the official estimates. Some of these figures have been improved with specific adjustments.
Catalina with R912
Cruise speed (5500rpm)
Stall speed
Vne (recommended)
Rate of climb
Take-off roll, land (to 50ft)
Take-off roll, water
Landing roll, land (fr 50ft)
Landing roll, water
Empty weight
AUW (AUF Max 614kg)
Max Payload
Solo
63kt
38kt
80kt
450fpm
450ft
500ft
600ft
300ft
346kg
614kg
268kg
Dual
60kt
42kt
80kt
200fpm
900ft
--
--
?
 
Catalina with R912
Cruise speed (5500rpm)
Stall speed
Vne (recommended)
Rate of climb
Take-off roll, land (to 50ft)
Take-off roll, water
Landing roll, land (fr 50ft)
Landing roll, water
Empty weight
AUW (AUF Max 614kg)
Max Payload
Solo
63kt
38kt
80kt
450fpm
450ft
500ft
600ft
300ft
346kg
614kg
268kg
Dual
60kt
42kt
80kt
200fpm
900ft
--
--
?

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